EVENDALE, Ohio -- For anyone who has watched curling on TV and thought, "I could do that," the opportunity is available.
Far away from the ceremony, uniforms and grandeur of the Olympics, a group curls for fun right here in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Curling Club offers league nights, learn-to-curl classes and other events.
As one might expect from an ice-based sport, they're pretty cool.
For those unfamiliar, curling is in the genre of games like cornhole that involve teams taking turns aiming for a target, but with the added complications that come with sliding a 40-pound stone across ice. Each team "throws" eight stones, alternating turns. A pair of "sweepers" follow the stone and smooth the ice ahead of it to help it travel further and steer it in a favorable direction, and a third sweeper waits at the end to help guide the stone to just the right spot. Whichever team gets a stone closest to the center of the circular target scores.
It sounds like a lot, but the whole thing is pretty casual.
"It's a gentleman's game," said Jonathan Penney, who heads the club. "You start with a handshake, you finish with a handshake. You call your own fouls. If you're going to cheat, you're only really cheating yourself."
Penney has been working to grow the club since before he moved to Cincinnati. Anticipating the move down from Toronto (his wife works for P&G, "So all roads lead to Cincinnati"), Penney was in communication with the expat Canadians who founded the club in Indian Hill sometime around 2010. During the Olympics that year, Penney worked the phones to drum up interest in curling around Cincinnati, even though the Penneys didn't move here until 2012.
"I was trying to set up watch parties at bars, to watching curling on TV, knowing full well I wasn't going to be there," he said.
The group eventually outgrew the Indian Hill Winter Club and moved to Cincinnati Gardens. With the closing of the Gardens, the club moved to SportsPlus in Evendale, which put in five curling lanes for them last summer. The club has about 100 members, including many who have moved down from Canada* or colder parts of the U.S., as well as plenty of Cincinnati natives who were looking to try something new.
It's a friendly group, and curling's casual nature makes it a very inclusive game. Outside of the highest levels of competition, men and women curl side-by-side. At any given league night, teens and retirees may face off against each other. A father throws the stone and his sons sweep. Impressively, no one falls on the ice. After an evening of curling is complete, it's not unusual for the competitors to have a beer together (losers buy the first round).
While the level of skill and competition varies, curling with the club does present some unusual opportunities. One curler enthusiastically recalled how, at his first-ever tournament, he faced the U.S. national wheelchair curling team. Cincinnati also sends a team to the Arena National Championships, a competition for regional curling clubs from across the country. And, as some of the curlers past their athletic prime joke, the sport represents their "last chance at Olympic glory."
With Winter Olympics coming up in 2018, Penney said they're anticipating another spike in interest. The club encourages people to try it out, and they're hoping to continue growing their numbers.
"If they don't think they're good enough, they just need to watch our league play sometimes," Penney joked. "It's not like you see on TV. It's rec level-type stuff."
For anyone interested in trying curling out, the club offers learn-to-curl sessions and instructional leagues. Most of their members have taken the classes, a series of two-hour lessons that cover everything from the basics to strategy - which can be complex.
"Two Ph.D.s couldn't agree on why a curling stone does what it does," Penney said.
The club provides all the needed equipment, including rubber grippers that stretch over shoes and help with traction while walking on the ice.
For leagues, teams of four can join together, or individuals can sign up and be placed on a team.
The club's most recent league just wrapped up. Anyone interested in finding out when their next events are scheduled can check out their Facebook page.
* "There's a lot of good Canadian stories that happen at hockey rinks in Cincinnati," Penney said.
For example: One recent arrival brought his son to a rink to play hockey. Somebody burst into the building and said, "Who's the guy with Ontario license plates in the parking lot?"
The father sheepishly put up his hand.
"You're coaching this team!" the man told the father.
He had never played hockey.