Decline is 'baffling'

CHAD SCARSBROOK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

The world's oldest and largest bonspiel is back, but its numbers are down yet again.

The 119th edition of the MCA Bonspiel hits the ice tonight at curling clubs across the city. But for the second straight year, the spiel hasn't been able to fill the slimmed down 448-team field. After coming up short in filling the long-standing limit of 512 teams in 2005, the MCA reduced the field to 448 last year. They came up seven teams short of the limit last year and, with 438 squads participating this year, they'll be 10 short.

"It's hard to pinpoint why attendance is suffering again," said bonspiel chairman Rod MacKay yesterday. "It's got a whole bunch of people baffled."

MCA executive director Ian Staniloff figures he knows part of the reason.

"The numbers are in decline and I believe part of that is because teams from rural Manitoba find it very expensive to stay in the city for a week," said Staniloff, noting the MCA will be addressing the situation more in depth in the future. "We must remember this is the largest one-event bonspiel in the world for one gender and we have over 2,000 players. We are concerned, sure, because we'd love to have more teams."

The teams they do have aren't too shabby, though. Former world champion and defending Manitoba champ Jeff Stoughton is back, as is defending grand aggregate champion Doug Riach. Other well-known skips include Kerry Burtnyk, Vic Peters (who's son Daley will be skipping in his place thanks to a knee injury) and Randy Dutiaume. There are also rinks making the trip from Halifax, Northwest Territories, Milwaukee, Wis., and from across Manitoba.

Once again, due to its smaller size, the bonspiel will take place largely within the confines of the perimeter. In years past games have been played in Springfield, La Salle and other rural venues, but the only ones outside the city this year will be in Stonewall and East and West St. Paul. The Stonewall Curling Club will fill the void of the Thistle Curling Club, which burned to the ground in June.

The MCA Bonspiel will award six provincial championship berths to the eligible squads. And there are some big names who have yet to qualify through zones or others means. Some of those names include Peters, Riach, Dave Boehmer, James Kirkness, Mike McEwen, Murray Woodward, Dave Smith, David Hamblin and Arnold Asham.

Opening ceremonies kick off today at the Victoria Curling Club at 5 p.m.


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