This week, the best American curlers will be in Pennsylvania competing in the U.S. national championships. But to most Philadelphians, the sport of curling is a mystery; pretty much all we know about it is that it is an Olympic sport.
Dick Morelli of the Philadelphia Curling Club in Paoli knows the game better than most: He’s curled for six years.
“Take the game of chess and the game of billiards and put them together,” Morelli says. “That’s kind of what curling’s all about.”
Dan Sambuco has never played the sport but he’s absorbed some of what he’s seen on TV during the winter Olympics. “I somewhat understand the rules. It’s a lot like shuffleboard and weights.”
Somewhere between shuffleboard and weights, and between chess and billiards. We’re getting closer. The sport has teams sliding 40-pound granite stones across ice, with sweepers clearing the ice in front of the stone as it glides, trying to land “the rock” dead center in a bulls-eye painted on the ice.
Pam Stephani started curling with the Philadelphia Curling Club after visiting Canada and watching the sport on television. “It’s all over Canadian television,” she says. Both she and Dick Morelli are volunteering at the championships, taking place this week at the IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston, alongside most of the club’s 250 members.
“I’m here because this is the nationals!” Stephani exclaims. “It’s in Philadelphia. I can’t believe it’s here!”
“There are 250 people in Philadelphia curling club, out of what? Four or 5 million people in the Philadelphia area?” says Morelli. “It’s actually a very tiny percentage of the population that knows about curling and participates in it.”
Dan Sambuco is here with his family, because his son plays for the Philadelphia Flyers Squirt Minors hockey team. His son finished practice earlier Saturday morning, in the same building that’s hosting the national championship, so he figured he’d watch curling in real life for his first time.
Together with other hockey players’ families, they sit on the bleachers debating the rules, feeling more and more confident that they understand what’s happening on the ice.
No Pennsylvania curling teams have made it to the nationals. There is a men’s team from upstate New York and a women’s team from Plainsfield, New Jersey.
But twins from Broomall, Taylor and Sarah Anderson, recently returned from curling at the Junior Olympics, held in January in Innsbruck, Austria.
Together with their teammates Tom Howell from the Jersey Shore and Korey Dropkin from Massachusetts, the Anderson twins get to throw out the first stone at the opening ceremony.
Curling is in their blood, the teens explain. Their parents were competing way before they were born. But even though Taylor Anderson has curled since she could walk, she understands the confusion new spectators feel.
She says, “It’s definitely a unique sport.”