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(published in SWEEP! d-Mag - Issue 4 - January 2010)

Championship Curling Coming Of Age

In a reassuring sign of the health of competitive wheelchair curling, seven of the nine provinces sending teams to the National Championships in Kelowna 15-21 March, are holding playdowns rather than selection camps to decide their representatives.

Chris Sobkowicz will again skip Manitoba after defeating Richard Dudek in a best of three series. He has made just one change from 2009: George Hornning comes in at 2nd, joining Dennis Thiessen and Arleen Ursel, with Terry Lindell as alternate. They'll be hoping to improve on the bronze medals won at the last two Nationals.

Nova Scotia came up with an imaginative workaround to the problem of having just one female wanting to curl competitively this season. There'll be a two team playdown, with Debbie Earle joining the team that takes the best of five series. Michael Fitzgerald, Laughie Rutt and Trendal Hubley-Bolivar. who all played as Team Nova Scotia in 2009, make up one threesome; Richard Brown, Terry Cousineuau and Keith Williams the other.

Lack of females also limited the number of teams in BC's playdowns, though BC have two women on Team Canada, and a third, Jackie Roy, who has trained so closely with the national squad that she has decided to stay in Vancouver to watch the Paralympics. Vancouver Island's Juan de Fuca Centre will host a three team playdown at the end of January. Ex-Team Canada members Gerry Austgarden and Gary Cormack will be opponents, though neither are slated to skip.

Lower Mainlander Cormack will play 3rd for local teammates Richard Green at skip and Vince Miele, with the Island's Corrine Jensen at lead. Kelowna's Austgarden, who skipped an all-Okanagan team at the 2009 playdowns, will play second for Prince George's Whitney Warren, one of just two players to have appeared in every National Championship. (Ontario's Frank Cannarella is the other.) Whitney is joined by local teammate Frank LaBounty, with whom he has won gold at the past three Nationals. Their lead is Quesnel rookie Allison Duddy.

Kelowna's Cyril Kinakin skips the third BC team, with local Ron Vaselenak, Jim Miller from the Island, and Vancouver's Samantha Siu. With PEI deciding to wait another year before attending the Nationals, two BC teams, the Provincial Champion and a host team, will play in Kelowna.

Two teams from Calgary and two from Edmonton will contest the Alberta Provincial Championship at the Jasper CC in Edmonton, February 5-7. Calgary's Jack Smart will hope to defend his title, though he will be without last year's third Bruno Yizek, who'll be warming the bench in Vancouver. Martin Purvis steps in at 2nd, with Anne Hibberd moving up to 3rd and Bridget Wilson at lead.

Last year the Ontario Curling Association made the deeply unpopular decision to limit wheelchair playdown participation to just one team from each region. This eliminated a second team from the Ottawa area and failed to reward the efforts of Ottawa wheelchair curlers to expand participation beyond a single team.
This year the OCA agreed to allow participation up to the total team limit allowed regular curlers; so five teams will compete at the Collingwood CC from February 17-20. Bradford's 2009 Provincial Champion Ken Gregory will face Toronto's Chris Rees, Ottawa's Bruce Cameron and Richard Fraser, and Ilderton's Lance Claus, skipping a rookie squad coached by Ernie Comerford, who jump-started wheelchair curling in Alberta.

The Kenora Curling Club hosts its first Northern Ontario Championship February 5 -7 with hometown current champions Team Ficek hoping to see off the challenge from Thunder Bay's Carl Levesque and Richard Dawid. Wayne Ficek skips an unchanged team of Mark Wherrett, Chester Draper, Cindy Hoffstrom and Denise Miault.

Wheelchair curling in Quebec has been centred at the Lennoxville CC, but they received a late challenge from the Victoria CC in Quebec City and will host a playdown February 20-21. Lennoxville will welcome back their skip, Ben Lessard, who was seriously injured over the summer in a water-skiing accident. He will be joined by Denis Grenier and Carl Marquis. Competition for the two female slots will be decided at a try-out session between Johanne Daly, Johanne Poulin and Nicole Huberdeau.

Team Saskatchewan was chosen in December with just one change from the side who had a very creditable 4-5 record in 2009 at their first national championship. Newcomer Terry Hart joins Del Huber (Regina), Gil Dash (Wolseley), Marie Wright (Moose Jaw) and Darwin Bender (Regina). The team will again be coached by Moose Jaw's Lorraine Arguin.

Newfoundland/Labrador will announce their team selections closer to the event.

The other major calendar event is the Ontario Parasport Winter Games at the Royal Kingston Winter Club, January 22-24. Six teams are competing; Toronto's Rees, Ottawa's Cameron, Bradford's Gregory, Kenora's Ficek and Levesque and Dawid from the Fort William CC in Thunder Bay.
International news

Italy continued the 'something for everyone' theme of this season's international bonspiels, winning the 2010 Identa Cup in Schwenningen, home of Jens Jäger's Team Hunters, aka Team Germany. A final warm-up spiel, provisionally scheduled for Glasgow or Perth at the end of January, will include Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.

Canada have a heavy schedule of training camps but no more competitions before Vancouver. Up to Christmas only Great Britain had traveled more. Though Team Canada would have been open to hosting teams wishing to visit, the feeling in the camp was that after the first part of February there was nothing to be gained by playing opponents they would be meeting in a month's time.

WCF update

Though wheelchair curling claims only a small part of the attention of the delegates to the semi-annual World Curling Federation meetings, big issues were at stake at Aberdeen last December. WCF vice-President Kate Caithness presented a paper proposing eligibility changes. She also addressed the present absence of an appeal procedure of an assessor's determination of player eligibility, either for or against.

But the meeting failed to lift the legally dubious ban on power wheelchairs in WCF competition. If evidence existed that power chairs afforded a competitive advantage, or damaged the ice surface, the WCF should (and would) have offered it. Without it the ban appears unwarranted discrimination towards a whole class of otherwise eligible disabled curlers.

Those familiar with issues of discrimination know that one should never underestimate the prevalence of blind prejudice. A senior WCF official that I spoke to directly (not Caithness) suggested that power wheelchair users should just use manual chairs instead - presumably while eating cake.

WCF officials have declined to respond to requests for the rationale behind their support for the ban, beyond saying that a decision will be made at the meeting next April in Cortina.

It may be an uphill battle to persuade delegates to that meeting to go against the recommendation of the WCF executive. Most will be unfamiliar with wheelchair curling and probably will not have given much thought to the notion that people with disabilities so significant they require use of powered wheelchairs, also deserve an opportunity to compete.

But it is an effort very much worth making, and I urge you to seek out and lobby your delegates, and raise the issue with your member associations. This ban can and should be lifted

Eric Eales - Kelowna, January 2009



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