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Sports archive for January 9, 2013

Lack of team interest means no Brier, Scotties for Yukon

It’s been five years since the Yukon has had a presence at the Canadian curling championships, and that won’t change this year.

It’s been five years since the Yukon has had a presence at the Canadian curling championships, and that won’t change this year.

The Yukon men’s and women’s playdowns scheduled to occur at the Whitehorse Curling Club last weekend were cancelled when no teams registered for the event.

The lack of teams means the Yukon/N.W.T. Scotties Playdowns scheduled to happen in Whitehorse Jan. 24 to 27 will also be cancelled.

Only one team is sent to the men’s and women’s national championships from the Yukon and N.W.T., while Nunavut does not participate.

“It’s certainly disappointing,” said Mark Evans, president of the Whitehorse Curling Club. “It’s disappointing that no one wants to represent the Yukon at the national level. It’s always great to see a Yukon team competing at the nationals.”

The lack of interest in the competitions undermines the efforts the local club has put into the junior program, Evans said.

“They are the future,” he said of the junior rinks. “If this almost apathy becomes common, they’ll have nothing to strive for. That’s probably, more than anything, what’s disappointing.”

Matt Bustin, business manager of the Whitehorse Curling Club, echoed Evans’ sentiments.

“Financially, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot to the curling club from an event perspective,” he said. “I think we’d get a little bit of money for hosting the playdowns, but it’s not a huge attendance draw. It could be, but in the past, I don’t think it’s been extremely popular.”

But while the cancellation of the playdowns may not bankrupt the club, the ripple effect is felt foundationally.

“The big effect is just the lack of competitive curling,” Bustin said. “Without competitive teams, there’s nothing for junior curlers and other people who are looking to get competitive to aspire to. And to get better, you have to play better teams, so we’re definitely losing a little bit of that.”

“I do think it is an aberration to not have any teams at all sign up,” Bustin said. “I don’t think it happens normally. It’s a bummer. It certainly sucks not having them.

That being said, it kind of goes along with a shift in the curling world.”

Brier and Scotties teams curl in World Curling Tour events all season long, giving them a huge competitive advantage on teams in the territories.

Bustin also noted that many of the Yukon’s top male curlers are fathers, many with young families.

“It just isn’t a huge priority,” he said. “If you’re going to put a serious effort in for going to the Brier, you’ve got to be practicing three times a week, playing at least twice a week, and if you can afford it at all, going down south and playing in the competitive events.”

Curling is cyclical in the North, he added, and the junior teams that have dominated the junior circuit over the past seven years could conceivably make a good run in the future.

Bustin also noted curling’s current exemption from the 2016 Arctic Winter Games as another blow to the sport in the North.

“It’s one less thing for the junior curlers to aspire to, and one less set of role models for the girls to aspire to,” he said. “It sounds kind of flowery, but it’s true. The kids need that goal to strive for. If they don’t have that, it can affect it.”

Wade Scoffin, the Yukon Curling Association’s technical director, was part of Chad Cowan’s rink that finished 2-9 at the 2008 Tim Hortons Brier in Winnipeg, Man.

This year’s Brier is set to happen in Edmonton March 2 to 10.

“One trend across Canada is that there are less and less teams going down the path of trying to get to the Brier or the Scotties,” he told the Star. “We’ve been looking at that seriously.”

Scoffin said the reality of Canadian championship competition means curlers essentially need to become semi-pro and spend the lion’s share of their free time on a curling sheet.

“Or you’re going to be focusing on your kids,” he said. “There’s a lot less adults really looking at the competition side of things. We’re seeing less numbers across Canada.”

The good curling rinks are only continuing to get better, while “the grassroots still is the grassroots,” Scoffin added.

While attending the Brier “is a great carrot,” Scoffin said, northern curlers need to be “at the right place at the right time” to go down that road.

“There has been a little bit of a fatigue factor,” he admitted. “And if we look at our competitive Tuesday night league, the depth of the teams is certainly not the same as it was five years ago.”

The Whitehorse Curling Club has made a push to lure new curlers to the sport. A greenhorn learn-to-curl league was offered on Friday nights last fall, which saw as many as 35 new curlers attend.

Volunteer coaches helped teach the sport, which saw teams play short games with players taking turns at each position, learning strategy and learning how to deliver the rock.

Scoffin added that as of 2015, a new format will be instituted by the Canadian Curling Association that will no longer require the N.W.T. and Yukon to do battle prior to the national championships.

“How the format is going to look is hard to say,” he said. “We are hopeful that that will reduce at least one of the variables. The association is trying a few things, and we just have to keep on trying and exploring what’s going to engage people to be participating.”

The last Yukon team to appear at the Scott Tournament of Hearts was Sandra

Hatton’s rink in 2000.

The Yukon team finished 0-11 in Richmond, B.C.

The 2013 Scotties are scheduled to take place in Kingston, Ont. from Feb. 16 to 24.

The Yukon Playdowns aren’t the first to be cancelled this season due to lack of interest. The Masters Playdowns, scheduled for early December, didn’t happen either.

Ellen Johnson registered her rink, which was acclaimed as winner. No men’s teams have registered to date.

The Canadian Masters Championships will be held April 8 to 14 in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Johnson, president of the Yukon Curling Association, said she is concerned with the lack of team interest in the national championships.

“I really think that each year there isn’t somebody there, it makes it harder for somebody later on,” she said. “I think it is a one-off year, basically. But it is a concern and it’s definitely something we are trying to remedy.”

However, Johnson said she understands national-level curling is a major time commitment for the competitive age group of 25 to 40 year olds.

“A lot of them have young families or are beginning careers,” she said. “To put in the time to do any competitive curling can be quite difficult.

“We seem to have hit a gap, an age gap almost,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s hard too because people leave here to pursue their education or careers. They often come back, but they’re often gone for a critical few years in that development stage.”

Currently, the hosting of men’s and women’s playdowns alternate each year between Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

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