Sign of the times

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

It remains one of the biggest events on Manitoba's sporting and social calendar.

And while it may never again reach the salad days of having more than 1,200 teams, the Manitoba Curling Association bonspiel is bouncing back, thanks in part to a couple of changes to the format.

"Pick another winter event that will draw between 1,600 to 2,000 participants on one weekend for one single event -- there isn't one as far as I know," said MCA executive director Shane Ray. "That's what people need to recognize and be proud of. If it's not the world's largest bonspiel, it's still one of the largest and this is one of Manitoba's largest events."

The curling extravaganza, which begins today with the honorary first rock being thrown by legendary broadcaster Bob Picken at 5:30 p.m. at Fort Rouge, has been shortened to five days from seven and teams are now guaranteed six games, not eight on a one-sided draw rather than two like it used to be.

Early reports on the changes are positive, since there are 412 teams -- 63 rural, six from out of province (including Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario), four U.S. entries (Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas) and 336 city -- signed up compared to just 401 in 2008.

"Shortening the event has helped a lot," said Ray. "A lot has to do with cost and some teams were having trouble getting the time off from work."

Ray admits the tweaking might just beginning.

"I'm optimistic we're going to keep growing it every year," said Ray, who hopes to be up to at least 448 teams for 2010. "We've got a lot of good suggestions going forward. Once you make one change, everybody says 'have you thought of this or thought of that?' In some of the cases, there have been some great ideas.

"We'll sit down and evaluate this year and then we'll make a few more changes based on the feedback we get from curlers."

Word of mouth is no longer enough when it comes to promoting the event either.

"We're going to put a concerted effort into marketing the event next year," said Ray. "We've always relied on the event to sell itself, that it's the world's largest bonspiel and it's been around for 121 years.

"We need to realize that's not enough anymore. We need to get out there and we need to get people talking about it."

Although the event is known most for its great atmosphere and focus on a good time, the competitive juices still flow since five berths in the Safeway Provincial Men's championship are available.

Among those still looking for a berth in the provincials is former MCA grand aggregate and Manitoba champion Randy Dutiaume.


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