The curling sky is falling

JIM BENDER

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Colour me red with embarrassment. Thanks to the number 360.

Quite frankly, I was hesitant to run after the Chicken Littles who were clucking that the local curling sky was falling last winter just because entries into the world-famous Manitoba Curling Association annual bonspiel were slow to arrive. And when the first rock was thrown, the spiel was only two teams short of a perfect draw (512), which left us scratching our heads over what that panic was all about.

But now, I'm the one left with egg all over my face.

When it was reported elsewhere just before New Year's that entries into this year's MCA spiel were just trickling in, I just shrugged it off. After all, it wasn't even New Year's yet and curlers are not that quick to pony up entry fees, especially so soon after Christmas. Besides, the MCA had extended the entry deadline the past few years anyway. And there was the fact that the MCA did manage to lure 510 teams a year ago. Then, we were told that entries were starting to flood into the MCA office in early January and a rough estimate of 350-400 entries were received, with many more expected.

SHORT OF THE PERFECT DRAW

But, at the end of this week, I was appalled to discover that the actual number of entries received turned out to be just 360. Yes, 360! And that is 150-plus short of the perfect draw for an event that has been called the benchmark of local curling. Or, assuming that they would all be five-man teams, 750-plus curlers. And at $55 each, that is a lot of revenue lost.

And yes, you can count me in as one of those Chicken Littles who are clucking that the local curling sky is falling now. A beet red one.

And this bit of gloom comes right on the heels of an MCA survey conducted to ask the curlers who compete in the annual bonspiel what can be done to improve it.

"I don't remember it (entries) ever being this bad," said Mitch Tarapasky, a member of the MCA's management council who oversaw that survey. "I was surprised by that. We were looking for improvements and we thought that we had made some. And most (survey respondents) said they'd still curl in the bonspiel no matter what we do."

The most significant change to the spiel came when the MCA decided to ditch the Safeway Select spot awarded to the winner of the minor-event winners playoff.

"I haven't heard anyone saying they're not going in it because of that," Tarapasky said. "I wish I knew why, then I'd do something about it. But I don't think there's any reason in particular.

"A number of people I've talked to said they're going away to Mexico or wherever after the kind of (lousy) summer we had. Maybe it's as simple as people have gotten cabin fever and they're looking for some sand instead of some ice."

Or maybe it's as simple as the natural progression of poor numbers in the annual Junior Christmas Bonspiel for the past decade or so, numbers that eroded after the MCA reduced the number of junior men's provincial berths available to two.

It should also be pointed out that the MCA lost an entire curling club (CFB) through no fault of its own and not all of those members migrated to other clubs. But with 50,000-60,000 registered curlers in Manitoba -- excluding those in rental leagues -- there are still plenty to fill the big bonspiel.

Tarapasky expects this subject to come up at tomorrow's management meeting.

"We should probably call the 50-60 teams not in it this year and ask them why they didn't enter," he said.

Make that the 150-plus squads not in it, which are also waiting for that curling sky to fall.


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