Ancient sport of curling gaining icy grip in Plymouth area

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.

Gilmanton School nominated for national 'Blue Ribbon' honor

GILMANTON — The New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) has nominated Gilmanton Elementary School for recognition by the United States Department of Education (USDOE) as a "Blue Ribbon School."

Apart from nominating the school for national recognition, Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry also added the school to her "Circle of Excellence", which recognizes educational innovation and excellence throughout the state.

Each year the DOE nominates several schools and, following an extensive application process, the USDOE recognizes between 300 and 400 schools from across the country as Blue Ribbon Schools. "It is a great honor to be nominated," said Gilmanton school Superintendent John Fauci, noting that a decade ago Gilmanton Elementary School was designated as "a school in need of improvement" because of No Child Left Behind test results. He stressed that the turnaround in the performance of the school was a genuine collaborative effort on the part of the administration, teachers, students, parents, school board and community.

Fauci was echoed by Principal Carol Locke, who began her career at the school as a reading teacher in 1987. She recalled that in 2005, when the school was found in need of improvement, staff attended a workshop to determine the "root causes" of the problem and invited a team of consultants to identify ways of enhancing the "culture and climate" of the school.

Locke, who became assistant principal in 2006 and principal two years later, recalled that the first step was a restructuring of leadership with emphasis on teamwork and shared decision-making between administrators and teachers and among the teaching staff. She said that teachers began meeting together daily and weekly. Curriculum was aligned with state and national standards. Teaching was tailored to the abilities and needs of individual students. Teachers and students made optimal use of the time in the school day.

"We started raising the bar," Locke said. "It was all about working together. I give the teachers a lot of credit. They are very attuned to their students."

"They developed a professional learning community," said Fauci. "Gradually the change just snowballed and our scores kept going up."

Fauci said that the application to the USDOE was submitted last week. If the school is selected, Locke and a colleague will journey to Washington to receive a flag and a plaque to mark their school's "exemplary service".

North End Italian finds its way to Weirs Beach, thanks tothe Ray family

LACONIA — Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December in the former Weirs Beach Lobster Pound, is already making a name for itself with its authentic, made-from scratch Italian food which features fresh ingredients and recipes from the owner's grandmother.
A week after it opened, an enthusiastic customer who identified him-or-her self as Bumble 2249 wrote in the Winnipesaukee Forum, ''Faro has set the bar for authentic Italian restaurants in the Lakes Region. Real homemade pasta. Homemade sauces. Best of the best meats, cheeses, breads and desserts! There are other good restaurants here but as far as Italian cuisine is concerned, this is it.''
Those kinds of endorsements are music to the ears of Richard Ray, whose family had operated the Lobster Pound since 2007 and has operated an Italian restaurant in Boston's North End for decades.
''We saw the price the price of seafood steadily increasing and realized that we couldn't continue to offer the same kind of quality we wanted for our customers without pricing ourselves out of the market. So we decided to return to our roots and offer authentic Italian using old family recipes,'' says Ray, who grew up in Boston's North End just a few blocks away from Fanueil Hall.
The Lobster Pound closed on October 15 last year and an extensive remodeling was started, led by Ray's brother Mike, which saw quaint and rustic seating arrangements created, art work installed on the walls including old photos of Italian street scenes and modern works by artist Peter Max, a friend of the Ray family. The tables all feature white tablecloths and the renovations provide an intimate atmosphere which helps make the dining experience more personal and relaxing.
''Many people come in and spend two hours enjoying their meal and conversation. That's what we want for our customers. There's no sense of being hurried and we limit our servers to just three tables, so they'll always be readily available,'' says Ray.
He says that one popular feature so far has been valet parking on Friday and Saturday nights, which customers have greatly appreciated during the cold winter nights as they can move from the warmth of their vehicle into the restaurant and then find a warm vehicle waiting for them at the front door when they leave.
''We went from a 40-year-old concept of a large volume, seafood restaurant to one which makes the dining experience very special,'' says Ray.
The lounge area has changed as well and offers comfortable sofa and chair seating on both sides and ends as well as high top table seating. There are 10 flat screen LCD TVs in that area, which makes it perfect for watching sports while having pizza and calzones as well as beverages during games.
And there's a totally new menu, one which features a wide variety of choices, from the 16-inch hand tossed North End style thin crust or personal plank pizza, all made with fresh ingredients, to antipasto, salads, shrimp scampi, pepardella Bolognese, lasagna Florentine, braised lamb shank, and chicken, pork and beef dishes prepared with an Italian flair.
Ray says that the best selling appetizers are pan-seared shrimp crostini while chicken parmesan is the most popular dish on the regular menu.
Patrons highly recommend the antipasto as an appetizer as it features dried meats and cheeses directly from Italy. The pastries are from Modern Pastry in the North End while the Italian-style breads come from Montreal, which Ray says has become the baked bread capital of the Northeast.
Ray says the many of his meats come from Italy and are delivered to the North End in Boston before being shipped to Laconia. The gelato comes from the North End and knowledgeable patrons say it as as good as anything they've ever had in Italy.
''Having quality ingredients is very important to us. We want people to have an authentic experience with the classic taste that only comes from fresh ingredients,'' he says. Among the popular items are Ray's homemade limoncello, a lemon-vodka apetif or an after dinner drink, which he makes using his grandmother's recipe.
Ray says that he has been very happy to see new customers this winter who have become regulars and is looking forward to the summer tourist season, which he expects will be very busy.
Currently the hours are Faro are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations are recommended on weekends and can be made by calling 527-8073.

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Chicken Parmesan is the most popular dish at Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December at the former Lobster Pound in Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Chicken Parmesan and lamb shanks are among the many Italian specials at Faro Italian Grille, which opened in December at the former Lobster Pound in Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Faro Italian Grille has created new intimate dining in the former Lobster Pound at Weirs Beach. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)