Greensboro’s DIY curling league brings people together
“We don’t do it like you see in the Olympics,” said Chris Ratliff, the skip (or captain) of the team Gate City Curling. “This is kind of a beer league, backyard-curling league.”
Ratliff said curling in Greensboro began last year during the excitement for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I think it can only enhance the experience adding different ages and co-eds because other than maybe a hand full of people out there, none of us have curled in our life, so nobody has an advantage over anyone,” Ratliff said of the inclusivity of the sport.
He said Chuck Burch, manager of the Greensboro Ice House and leader of the Greensboro Curling League, made it possible for people of all ages and backgrounds to play together. Burch has the equipment that brings the ice skating rink to LeBauer Park for WFMY News 2 and Downtown Greensboro’s annual Piedmont Winterfest, and he decided to put curling circles on the rink to appeal to others. Ratliff said he and some friends decided to check it out and they became hooked ever since.
“It is BYOB, and loosely based on the rules of curling,” Ratliff said. “This is the second official season. We added 10 more teams as interest has been growing for curling.”
The objective of curling is to slide a stone across the ice toward a targeted section divided up into four circles to score points. Ratliff said curling is played to 10 points and players can score up to four points in one turn. Ratliff encourages people to come out and try it even if they have never played before.
“We notice that a team will come out and be like, we have no idea what we are doing we don’t know how to do this, and they are very nervous about it,” he said. “After the game starts and a couple of rounds, it gets competitive. None of us have experience with it, none of us have a monetary interest in this. We aren’t trying to make money off of this, it is something we wanted to do to hang out a little bit further and drink a beer after work. This works out great for us, and if you can find four people that can buy into that craziness, it is actually a lot of fun.”
Ratliff said his favorite part of the sport is the competition and the new people he meets and new friends he makes.
“Other people come out, they make a great shot, we all cheer, we make a great shot they all cheer,” he said. “It is that type of thing that I think we miss a little bit now that we sit at a computer for eight hours and go home and watch T.V. for the rest of the evening. It forces you to get outside and meet new people that you would not meet in your normal, everyday routine. A lot of sports that require specialized skills like tennis or golf or baseball, this really is something where you can get a group of your friends together and go out learn the rules in five minutes and actually compete with other teams doing the same thing.”
What started out as six teams, has grown into about 18 with familiar names such as Goodwill, WFMY News 2, Gate City Curling, and Gate City Growlers. (There are also cleverly named teams such as Game of Stones, Curl Jam, Of Ice and Men and Sultans of Sweep.)
“This year is the first year where it is more a family environment,” said Will Bledsoe, member of Gate City Curling. “People come out and congregate. We’ve actually had spectators come out and watch matches.”
Bledsoe compared the league to church or recreational center leagues for sports such as softball and kickball. He said it is laid back and purely for fun.
“We do follow a set of rules, but everybody is out there to have a good time, that has been one of the great things, to meet people from all over the city,” Bledsoe said.
Ratliff said the season lasts until Jan. 22, which will be the last Tuesday that the rink is open in LeBauer Park. It is about an eight-week season with games every Tuesday night from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
“The times vary when our teams play, but I think a great time to come would be 8-8:30 p.m.,” Ratliff said. “There can be 30-40 people out there.”
Ratliff said any group of four people could show up on Tuesday night and jump in. He said the ice rink at LeBauer Park is the perfect space for this kind of league.
“We are happy with being outside on the ice; it has a greatness to it,” he said. “Being downtown in the middle of the night, freezing. It creates a bond.”
The Greensboro Curling League reflects the spirit of Greensboro in the sense that it has a very “do-it-yourself” attitude, Ratliff alluded. He said that the equipment was made with mixing bowls, concrete and the brooms are from a hardware store. He said in curling, the stone used to score points is typically made of granite and usually costs thousands of dollars.
“What Chuck did was, he took two mixing bowls, put them together, filled it full of cement, duck taped them together and put a handle on it,” he said. “It is 40 pounds. We throw that down the ice. Brooms are from Home Depot; it’s nothing special.”
Looking to the future, Ratliff said he hopes to gain more sponsorship for his team, as there is a $5 fee per player, which helps cover the overhead of the rink being open for extended hours. He also said the league is in talks of scheduling playoff dates, a ceremony for the winners and getting a trophy so that players who win during the season can be recognized.
“The point we are trying to get across is, there is something cool to do in Greensboro during winter,” he said. “I know the majority of people wouldn’t come out in freezing weather. We all bring a cooler, we all go and hang out, get to meet new people and do something different.”
Ratliff said that Greensboro is a social city, but there are not that many outlets other than bars and music venues for social interactions.
“If you are not into that, you leave out a whole subset of people,” Ratliff said. “I think [curling] brings that back to downtown Greensboro, where people have nothing else in common other than wanting to do this and hanging out. We get to meet people we don’t see in everyday circles.”
For more information about curling and for the curling schedule, check out the Piedmont Winterfest website (www.piedmontwinterfest.com/). For more information about Gate City Curling, follow them on Instagram(@gatecitycurling), where Ratliff said games and times are posted. He said if anyone is interested in starting or joining a team, they can direct message him on the Instagram page.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.