Curling takes center stage: To debut as a demonstration sport at the Bay State Games

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PITTSFIELD — The 34th Bay State Winter Games will feature a new form of competition, as curling has been added to the games as a demonstration sport.

Men's and women's teams will compete as part of four-team fields. The curling portion of the games begin Feb. 24 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires starting at 2 p.m.

Curling's history in the Berkshires dates back to the early 1900s with the Pittsfield Curling Club. More than 100 years later, Mark Fischetti and a group of friends set out to revive the sport by starting the Berkshire Curling Club.

Fischetti got the idea for the club after being introduced to the sport during a trip to Norfolk, Conn. The club started with seven members and has grown to 43 paid members in about a year. Once players get comfortable on ice, newcomers can quickly join in on the action.

"It's pretty easy to learn," Fischetti said. "Takes a half an hour to go through the basic motions. In about a half an hour you can be throwing stones down the ice.

"In one evening you can learn it enough to play."

Each turn starts with a thrower. The thrower slides on the ice and must release the 42-pound stone before the designated line called the "hog line." The next step is what people usually associate with the sport — sweeping. The sweepers brush in front of the stone, changing its direction and speed. Once the stone is across the second line, the goal is for it to land as close to the middle (the tee) of the painted circle (the house) as possible. A team gets one point for each stone placed closest to the tee. Each team throws eight stones per turn (end). The game lasts 10 ends.

The Berkshire Curling Club will have two teams competing at the Bay State Games. Fischetti, Gerrit Blauvelt, Tim Egan and Gordon Prescott are competing for the men's team. Linda Egan, Maryellen Prescott, Karen Zinchuk and Cindy Nasman are competing for the women. The exhibition is invitation-only, open to teams competing on public arena teams, as opposed to private club teams. It's an open competition, meaning the skill levels will vary, but Fischetti said his club is focused on having fun.

"It's a social sport," he said. "Even though when you're playing you want to win, it's not like the hockey leagues around here where they're all just beating each other.

"It's fun. Everybody is real supportive of each other."

Support and inclusion are two things the Berkshire Curling Club offers to prospective curlers. The club has members in their 20s all the way up to mid 70s, from newcomers to Day 1 members. The mood during the club's playdown last Saturday was light and friendly, but each team was certainly playing to win.

"The [age] range is so much because it's a sport that just about anyone can do," Blauvelt said. "You go to some clubs and get people that are five years old, and then there's clubs where you get people that are into their 90s.

"That's the good thing about curling. There's stick curling if you have physical limitations, there's wheelchair curling, it's open to everyone.

"That's what curling tries to do. It tries to be a sport where anyone can go on the ice and participate. We're open to everyone and that's what the curling community is. Regardless of age or athletic ability, you can go on the ice and curl."

Andrew Snogles, 22, stopped by the playdown after hearing about the club while at the gym. Snogles is from central New York, where hockey and curling are local pastimes. Snogles said he appreciates hockey, but has always been intrigued by the mental side of curling. Once you get past the quirkiness of sweeping on ice, the amount of strategy in the game is endless.

"Curling is definitely more of a mind game," he said. "There's more setup, more strategy. Not to say that there isn't setup and strategy in hockey. ... You have to be able to react dynamically and change your strategy. Hockey is a lot more fast-paced, a lot more physical. But as far as positioning goes, [curling] may be one, two, three, four steps down the line. It's just a good thought exercise for any athlete."

People interested in joining the Berkshire Curling Club should attend an open house Feb. 17. at the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires.

The cost for this event is $20 per person and there will be two sessions. The first session is from 6-7:30 p.m. The second session is from 7:30-9:00 p.m.

For more information visit: www.curlberkshires.org.

Akeem Glaspie can be reached at aglaspie@berkshireeagle.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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