PLYMOUTH — Curling, a sport in which players slide 42-pound polished granite stones across ice towards a bulls eye-like target and score points by having their stones finish closest to the center "button", is fast becoming a popular spring and fall activity at Plymouth State University's Hanaway Ice Arena.
The Plymouth Rocks Club, now in its second year, has 32 four-player teams which compete in games Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings according to ice arena manager Dave Gyger, who said that getting a curling league started was one of his first priorities when he was named arena manager two years ago.
''It's far exceeded my expectations,'' says Gyger, a Plymouth State University graduate who was ski coach at PSU for 20 years and started working in the ice arena industry at Waterville Valley, where the Plymouth State ice hockey team played before the PSU ice arena he currently manages was built .
Curling, a Winter Olympics staple since 1998, dates back to 16th century Scotland (where golf was also invented) and was brought to Canada in the early 19th century by Scottish immigrants. It reached the United States in 1830, when the first American curling club was formed. It is tremendously popular in upper Midwestern state like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Gyger says that building on the popularity of the sport in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he advertised for players for a local club and received a huge response, which resulted in a six-week spring program. A similar program ran last fall and this month a seven-week long season got underway.
He says that there are other curling programs in the state in the Mt. Washington Valley, Upper Valley and Nashua areas and that he sees the local program adding to the overall popularity of curling in New Hampshire.
''It's a great sport and there's no advantage or disadvantage from the standpoint of age, gender or athletic ability. We have a couple of teams made up entirely of women as well as some co-ed teams and teams that span generations within a family,'' says Gyger.
He says that all of the things a person needs to play the game are provided by the arena, the 42-pound stones, as well as shoes, one of which is equipped with a slider sole which enables the wearer to slide more easily across the ice, as well as brooms used to sweep the path ahead of the stones to make them move more rapidly.
Each team has eight stones and each curler throws two stones during each "end" — like an inning in baseball. A game consists of 10 ends. The curling "sheet" is 146-foot long and 15 to 16 feet wide. The target area (the "house") is located on the center line of the sheet and marked with three concentric circles.
The curling stone, which weighs between 38 and 44 pounds, has a maximum circumference of 36 inches and a made of granite. Interestingly enough, the only part of the stone in contact with the ice is a narrow, flat ring about one-quarter to a half-inch wide and about five inches in diameter. The inside of the ring is a hollowed concave which enables it to clear the ice.
The top of the stone has a handle attached that curlers use not only for grip for to apply a spinning motion that gives the sport its name. The more spin applied, the more the rock will curl along its path to the house.
The curling brooms, which were in the 1950s were made of corn strands, have been largely replaced by curling brushes made of fabric, hogs hair or horsehair and the handles, originally wood, have been replaced by fiberglass or carbon fiber, making them lighter and more efficient.
Gyger says the brooms are used to sweep away the ice pebbles which are formed when water droplets are sprayed on the ice and freeze. The pebbles make the ice surface like an orange peel and the stone moves atop the pebbled ice. As the stone moves across the pebbles, any rotation of the stone causes the curl.
The four members of a curling team, the lead, the second, the third and the skip and each have specific duties.
The lead throws the first two rocks and sweeps for the next and must be good at throwing "guards" to protect the scoring area, as well as a strong sweeper. The second throws the next two stones and must be good at playing takeouts. The second also sweeps for the lead.
The third throws the next two rocks and must be good at all shots so that they can set up the final, scoring shots thrown by the skip, who is the captain and decides team strategy as well as delivering the final two shots.
The winner is the team with most accumulated points when the 10 ends are completed. Tie games are settled by playing extra ends.
One of the enthusiastic curlers in the league is Linda Levy, chair of the Department of Health & Human Performance and Athletic Training Program director at PSU.
She's been curling for about a year and says ''it was just the idea of trying something new. It's a lot of fun and people of any age can play it.'' Levy points out people who can't bend as lows as other curlers do when making their shots can actually use a stick to propel it from a standing position.
She's a member of the BOBS team, which started out as all woman team but recently had a man join their ranks.
''It's a really fast learning curve once you get started and it's a great way to socialize as well. I think it's here to stay in the Plymouth area and that it provides another wonderful recreational opportunity for the area.''
The cost for Tuesday night league is $350 per team; the cost for the other leagues is $400 per team. The team fees include the end-of-the-season curling reception in the Welcome Center.