It's time to play your way in

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The esteemed Bob Picken brought it up here last week, and it has long been a pet peeve of ours.

The Manitoba Curling Tour's event co-ordinator had suggested that the Manitoba Curling Association should re-examine its zone structure because some teams are getting into the provincial women's championship by acclimation or by having to beat only one or two other foursomes in their zones. But, whether you are talking about women, men, seniors or juniors, that should just not be allowed. In fact, it cheapens the qualifying process.

"We'll have to take a look at that if we find that consistently, over the years, there is only one team in a certain zone," MCA executive director Ian Staniloff said yesterday. "But it kind of bounces around."

But it has been happening in one zone or the other for a number of years in women's, senior women's and junior playdowns, and we are referring to both city and rural zones. Unless a zone lures at least four teams, that spot should be moved elsewhere, such as a berth bonspiel, with any entries parachuting into the nearest neighbouring zone. No one should be able to qualify just by paying a zone entry fee.

"Signs are pointing to a disparity between the club curlers and the top-level curler," Staniloff said of the dwindling zone entries. "Some curlers may not be prepared to play in them just to be the runner-up."

So they save their cash and stay home. But, if the number of zone entries continue to decline in whatever category, the MCA should then reduce the number of teams in its provincial championships.

ICE IRONY: How ironic. Because the MCA decided to stick to a strict deadline date for entry into the MCA's 118th Annual Bonspiel for the first time, it ended up with 441 entries -- seven short of the "capped" 448. And, despite the fact that the drawmaster had suggested accepting late entries to fill the 448, the MCA stuck to its guns.

"We wouldn't have had any problem filling it if we had extended the deadline," Staniloff said. "But we sent the message, 'Here's the deadline next year.'

"And it's still the world's largest bonspiel. There's still more than 2,000 curlers in it."

Two teams denied late entry were juniors who are eligible for the Safeway Select.

BITERS: Jeff Stoughton credited fifth Don Harvey for giving his team a much-needed lift when he replaced second Garry Van Den Berghe for one game at the Grand Slam's Canadian Open last week. Harvey will replace lead Steve Gould when Stoughton plays in the MCA spiel next week ... Stoughton, by the way, is virtually assured of snagging his third straight CTRS exemption into next year's Safeway Select ... It's a moot point now, but if her kidney stones had prevented Manitoba skip Jennifer Jones from playing any games at the Olympic trials, third Cathy Overton-Clapham would have skipped, with lead Georgina Wheatcroft moving up to third.

Coming Up

Joelle Brown of Fort Rouge will be among those vying for the last available berth into the provincial Scott Tournament of Hearts when the annual MCA Women's Bonspiel hits the ice at the Granite and Victoria clubs this Friday ... Manitoba's Jennifer Jones will compete in a women's cashspiel in Berne, Switzerland, this week ... The Safeway Select city zone playdowns, which started Monday, wrap up Sunday.

House Cleaning

Doug Armour, the reigning Canadian masters men's champion from Souris, will be back to defend his Manitoba title in Killarney, March 9-13 ... St. Vital's Sylvia Erickson will also be defending her masters women's provincial crown in Minnedosa, March 9-13.


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