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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - October 2008)

New rules to benefit the game

As wheelchair curling matures, it is moving closer to the able-bodied game. Summer rule changes lifted the patronising 6-end limit and brought in time clocks to put a stop to 3 hour games. Teams will now each have 68 minutes plus a one minute time out to play 8 ends, improving if not saving it as a spectator sport.

In a more controversial move, the World Curling Federation widened the area from which stones may be delivered, expanding delivery angles. The CCA assumes this change will produce "significant performance related benefits." Other national coaches I've spoken to are less impressed. We'll have a fuller examination of the rule change when teams have had the opportunity to evaluate it on the ice.

National Champions

In March British Columbia, this time led by ex-Brier skip Jim Armstrong, repeated as national champions, beating Ontario 8-6 in Winnipeg. Team Canada, which exists independent of the national championship, did not compete, avoiding any embarrassment had they failed to win. At the 2009 Nationals in Nova Scotia, Team Canada members will be allowed to play as long as no more than two members are on the same provincial team.

BC has never been outranked by a provincial team in national competition, but has yet to find a way to convert this success into increased grassroots participation. This year CurlBC finally agreed to hold provincial playdowns, going some way to answer the criticism that selection camps destroy the incentive for current players to grow the talent pool.

Gender obstacles

All provinces are finding it hard to attract wheelchair curlers and part of the reason is that the CCA has adopted the WCF mandate that teams be of mixed gender.

Itís a fine principle, especially for countries who have just a dozen or so total competitors Ė outside North America that's everyone but Scotland. But Canada has the facilities to accommodate hundreds if not thousands. For many reasons, including far fewer spinal cord injuries, females do not make up 25% of the potential athlete pool. So why insist on a WCF mandate that limits team formation in Canada, when even our National Championship does not lead to participation in WCF events?

CurlBC has put as much into wheelchair curling as any province, yet after five years, has just five female curlers with any experience of team play. Because of the mixed gender mandate, five will therefore likely be the maximum number of teams at the January playdowns in Vernon.

Team Canada

Team Canada have had two pre-season training camps at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, with on-ice practice, and advice from a fitness coach, nutritionist and sports psychologist. Eight athletes will travel to Scotland to compete at the Kinross International, October 21-23. Last year's Team Canada will be joined by Manitoba's Chris Sobkowicz, Alberta's Bruno Yizek and BC's Jim Armstrong, whoíll hope to be declared eligible for WCF and Paralympic competition after meeting with the WCFís medical assessor.

Get Involved

As we start a new season, hereís how you can help to establish curling as the winter recreation of choice for wheelchair users.

If youíre a club curler, think of who you know that uses a wheelchair and invite them to see what a sociable game it is, and how you donít need the skill level you see on TV to have a good time.

If youíre a club manager or committee member, think about how to make your club more accessible. Some access is better than no access. Donít let the perfect get in the way of the good, or even initially the make-do. And setting an hour or two of free ice time for wheelchair practice will help get things started.

If you used to curl but canít get in the hack any more, or are not stable enough to stand and use a stick, do what Jim Armstrong has done, and play from a wheelchair.

If youíre a wheelchair user and havenít curled, ask at your club how you can join in. 2 on 2 stick curling is a good way to begin. Your provincial organization should be able to put you in touch with someone who can guide you through the basics.

If youíre an experienced wheelchair curler, aim to bring two new players onto the ice this year. Contact a local business to see if theyíll sponsor team jackets or embroidery. Get some sponsorship, contact the press and local TV. Spread the word. We did it in the Okanagan; you can do it too.

If youíre a coach, consider starting a wheelchair program. Thereís lots of information on the wheelchaircurling.com website.

Eric Eales - Kelowna, September 2008



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