As spring attempts to make its way into the Plymouth area, Sunday afternoon saw more than 30 people taking to the ice of the Hanaway Rink at the Plymouth State University Ice Arena.
Many meeting for the first time that day, the folks were coming from various portions of the community to open up a Sunday afternoon curling league.
This group joined another league playing from 6 to 8 p.m., as well as leagues running on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.
“It’s been bigger than I ever could’ve imagined,” said arena manager Dave Gyger. “We’re opening up more practice day because people want it.”
Amazingly enough, curling at the PSU arena started just eight weeks ago, but buoyed by the televised matches from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in February, the program has burgeoned and has become a huge hit at the arena.
Gyger was working in Waterville Valley about 10 years ago when they hosted Scottish Games. The Belfast Curling Club came to do a demonstration and Gyger was determined that he would get a club going locally at some point.
“Ever since, it’s always been in my head, if I got to a place where I could, this was something I wanted to do,” he said.
The arena held an intro to curling class and more than 230 people showed up for the class.
About 60 percent of those people signed up to continue on with league play and there is currently more than 100 participants in the league play.
“For the first year, this is unbelievable,” Gyger said as he looked across the ice at the 32 people with smiles on their face enjoying the afternoon. “It’s an absolute roaring success.”
Gyger noted that none of the success the program has seen would be possible without the support of the university and the Mount Washington Valley Curling Club, based out of the Ham Arena in Conway. That club started a few years ago and has been moving along nicely.
Gyger noted that the MWV group was instrumental in helping to teach the PSU arena staff how to teach the game and lots of the basics. Some of the MWV members were in attendance on Sunday afternoon participating in league play.
“They’ve really helped us along,” Gyger said. “MWV has been unbelievable.”
The university purchased the four sets of stones needed to hold four matches at one time on the ice surface. Each match includes 16 stones (eight for each team), so a total of 64 stones were purchased, the largest expense of starting the club.
“This wouldn’t be possible without the support of the university,” Gyger said. “We’re very fortunate for their support.”
Making ice for the curling is also a bit different than normal. The zamboni runs a dry run over the ice, not putting down water, but just scraping up the “snow” left from whatever activity was on the ice previously. Staff members then take out backpacks full of water and essentially spray water drops onto the surface. Curling requires a surface loaded with tiny bumps and the water droplets freeze and provide that surface.
Gyger also pointed out that the curling program is just another way to get people into the arena, and that’s always the goal.
“The community outreach that we are able to get with this has been great,” Gyger continued. “It’s bringing people into the facility, they get to experience the building and hopefully they come back.”
And Gyger notes that there have been a lot of great moments in the first few weeks of the program.
He recounts a group from the Beckett School that plays on Tuesday night. The group includes people dealing with disabilities and he said the excitement on their faces as they played a great match just a week earlier was fantastic.
But perhaps Gyger’s favorite story helped to hammer home that the curling program he brought to the arena was a sure-fire success.
He relays a story of a gentleman coming off the ice, someone he hadn’t met and who didn’t know who he was. Gyger asked him what he thought of the program.
“He said, ‘I have not seen so many people smile for such a long period,'” Gyger relayed. “That was a nice compliment to get from a perfect stranger.”
The PSU arena can be reached at 535-2758. For those who missed the intro to curling classes, the arena will be offering drop-in curling on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m.