Playing for Neil

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

"We cry all the time."

Those words from Keith Kyle, said through tears yesterday, are an indication of just how emotional this year's Manitoba senior men's curling championship promises to be.

The 16-team event, which began this morning at Winnipeg's Fort Rouge Curling Club, is being dedicated to two-time provincial champ Neil Andrews of Brandon, who passed away on Saturday after a battle with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare brain disorder, for which there is no cure.

Andrews' family, including wife Heather, brother Darryl, son Nate and daughter Tara, will take part in tonight's opening ceremony, which begins at 7:15.

Kyle, a Brandon resident and lead for Baldur's Rob Ramage this week, went to university with Andrews and became good friends with him when they played fastball and curled together in the 1980s.

Andrews also coached Kyle's son for nine years with the Manitoba Senior Baseball League's Brandon Marlins, so his passing hit hard.

"We knew it was coming, but it still shocks you when it happens," Kyle said.

Coincidentally, Andrews won his first senior men's title in 1999 as the third for Fort Rouge's Ron Westcott. The other three members of that team will take part in tonight's ceremony.

Westcott, who failed to qualify for this week's event, will throw out the ceremonial first rock, Bob Boughey and Ron Toews will sweep, and Darryl Andrews will hold the broom for his brother.

"It will be touching," said Westcott, who grew up with Neil in the western Manitoba village of Douglas. "Because I know Heather and their two children had a little meeting after Neil passed away and thought they should come in for this. They thought Neil would want them to, because it is a celebration of him.

"... It'll be naturally emotional, but in a way we gotta keep thinking this is a celebration of a great guy and a great curler."

Andrews left the Westcott squad in 2001 to curl with his brother (they won the province in 2004), but he kept his membership at Fort Rouge and always attended its annual banquet.

That's why the club is going all out to honour one of the province's great sportsmen.

"We knew he was sick, so we thought what a great way to honour him. We'll just dedicate this to him," Boughey said. "I just never thought he'd go this quick."

As for the event, Brandon's Brian Moffatt is the No. 1 seed, followed by Valour Road's John Bubbs, Ramage and Pembina's Martin Bailey.

"My hat is off to the Fort Rouge Curling Club for recognizing Neil and doing what they're doing," Moffatt said. "It's just a great thing. ... We know he'll be watching down on all the players out here."

For Kyle, winning would mean so much more than just a trip to the national championship in Trois-Rivieres, Que., next month.

"Well, I told the boys we want to win it for Neil," he said, his voice cracking. "But it's going to be tough."


Videos

Photos