TORONTO - The secret is out. At the end of March, Toronto is playing host to a major youth curling competition.
The Optimist International U-18 Curling Championships run from March 30 to April 3 at the Weston and St. George’s Golf and Country Clubs in Etobicoke and feature the top curling teams under 18 years of age from across Canada, the United States and Asia.
“We’re pretty excited,” said volunteer Mark Inglis, who also chairs the Ontario Junior Curling Tour. “This championship flies under the radar and we’re hoping that two years of hosting in Toronto will help build its profile.”
Founded in 2001 in Calgary, the U-18 championship is hosted twice, back to back, in a city before moving on. Next year’s event will be held at the Dixie Curling Club in Mississauga.
A U.S.-based organization with its Canadian head office in Montreal, Optimist International is an association of nearly than 3,000 Optimist Clubs around the world dedicated to “Bringing Out the Best in Kids”. Adult volunteers are the drivers of some 65,000 service projects that serve more than six million young people every year.
Given the Roaring Game’s legacy of gung-ho volunteerism, an Optimist curling event is a no-brainer. Initially, however, curling mandarins didn’t know what to make of it.
Chief T.O. organizer Paul Bourque has been involved since 2003, the year the Ontario Curling Association declined to get involved and passed it along to the Toronto Curling Association.
“In 2004 our teams weren’t even allowed to wear Ontario colours in the competition,” said Bourque. “Now things have come around again and the provincial bantam championships are used to declare the Ontario teams.
“Those teams also benefit from provincial ‘Quest For Gold’ funding.”
Inglis reports that other curling poobahs are taking note.
“It’s not a sanctioned event but OCA and (the Canadian Curling Association) are paying close attention to this,” said Inglis. “There isn’t an equivalent world championship for this age group, and they’re getting feedback from their constituents that they want to see more of the younger groups getting encouraged, and this is one way to do that.”
Another way is to follow the lead of an anything-but-obscure organization called the International Olympic Committee. The first Winter Youth Olympic Games will be held in January 2012 at Innsbruck, Austria and curling is on the agenda. That has the World Curling Federation scrambling to push the underserved U-18 category onto its member nations.
The WCF’s world junior competition is for ages 21 and under, and the majority of teams hail from the upper end of the age group.
Without official sanction, the Optimist Championships need more volunteer bodies and, of course, sponsorship money. The event website (gtau18curling.com) lists a range of partnership options from $100 to $10,000.
“We’re running a tight budget and any late help would be huge,” Inglis said.
“People love this championship. I’ve been getting emails from the Japanese teams assuring us that they’re coming, regardless of their problems at home. They’re really enthusiastic.
“I think they want to normalize things as much as possible.”
Good folks wishing to lend an Optimist hand can send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org ... TSN has a crew on hand in Esbjerg, Denmark and is televising selected game coverage of Amber Holland’s Team Canada at this week’s Capital One women’s worlds. The final airs at 9 a.m. ET on March 27.
George Karrys is: curlinguru.com