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Curlers head to U16 Juniors provincials

From left: Julia Strickland (13) Charlotte Power (13) Marissa Billard (12) Sarah Thomas (12). – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — February will mark a significant milestone for the U16 female curling team at Gateway Curling Club. It marks the first time since 2005/2006 that a team will head to the U16 Juniors provincial tournament. The event, which will run from February 9-12, will see seven men’s teams and five women’s teams competing. Julia Strickland, Charlotte Power, Marissa Billard, and Sarah Thomas will make their way to Gander to represent Port aux Basques, and Ben Power, Charlotte’s younger brother, will be playing as a spare for the Stephenville U16 men’s team. “No one has gone in, we figure, since 2005-2006 in a provincial tournament, so it’s been awhile. The last team, I don’t know if it was the last year, but one of their last years, they actually won the provincials for the province. In the curling club you can see their banner up on the wall, so they were good representatives, obviously,” said coach David Power. “These guys are going to get some exposure for the other juniors in the program. We are up to 23 curlers now in our program, we are very pleased. We have 14 juniors and 9 little rockers, so you’ve got curlers ranging from 6 up to 14, and there’s a nice mix of boys and girls. They are having fun and we are really pleased with the numbers after COVID. We never really dipped, a lot of the kids that are there, they hung on during COVID and you can see the excitement now is coming back into it.” The pandemic meant the curling program had a lot of downtime over the past few years, but even with the difficult flu season this past year, the curling club has been doing very well. “The Curling Club posted something in relation to COVID because there was a period where COVID took a spike in town, so it’s something you’re aware of. I know in the past, for COVID, we were cleaning the handles on the rocks and stuff, but this year it’s a little more relaxed,” explained Power. “The junior program, the last couple of years, has been really restricted because of COVID and the junior programs across the province are just getting back on track after COVID, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm now because restrictions have come down and you can get a large congregation of people together. We were really careful with juniors the past couple of years with COVID, there were periods where we were completely shut down.” Luckily, the pandemic didn’t affect the abilities of the curlers who were away from the ice for so long. “I think where the program has been running for years, there are a lot of skills in place, it’s comparable to riding a bike, because the slide is really important in curling, and like riding a bike, even though the last few years have been really slow, a lot of the skills are still there, and the curlers picked it back up fast which was so nice. We got into games really quickly and didn’t have to spend a lot of time on skill development because the kids remembered a lot of it.” Power said this is the year to bring back the excitement. “We have several coaches, and we talked about this being the year that we’ve really got to start getting the level of excitement back up because it’s been a hard couple of years with COVID, there’s been a lot of stopping and going, restrictions, and we used to have to break them up into separate groups and you had to stay in your group because of COVID, so it’s nice to remove all that now and get the feeling back of playing the game, enjoying it, getting back at it.” Power said the coaches and curlers alike are eager to get on the road. “They are really excited. We’ve been doing a lot of extra practices, we actually had a Stephenville team come out over the weekend, and we had the boys team play the girls team. There has been a lot of skill development, the girls are doing really well, and we’re just telling them, for this one, just have fun and enjoy the experience. There are going to be older teams, this is a U16 tournament, basically 16 and under, and the girls are between the ages of 11 and 14, so they’re younger. It’s a first for them, to get some experience with the plan of going into the same competition next year.” There are currently two coaches aside from Power, Dave Thomas and Randi Alexander, and they’ve done competitions themselves, so they know what a wonderful experience it will be for the kids. “We know how much fun it is. We know what they’re going into and we know it’s going to be exciting. It’s a road trip so they will be going with their friends, they’ll be meeting new friends, and they’ll have the road trip experience where they are in a hotel, they have a group of kids together, having fun. These are games that are timed and officiated, so you get the excitement from that and it’s something that, as coaches, we are looking forward to,” said Power. Even though they haven’t been to provincials in years, Power said it is thanks to numerous coaches that the program kept running. “Doug and Carl Cote did it for years, we had Joe Murphy come in and do it for a while, and now we have the three coaches, myself, Randi Alexander, and Dave Thomas.” The coaches aren’t the only individuals that deserve a shout out. “There’s a group of gentlemen that are working behind the scenes as volunteers, ice makers, and I really appreciate them, they’ve been doing a lot. I’ve been asking them if we can come in on a Saturday, and they’re coming in on a Friday night or Saturday morning getting the ice ready for me, which is really good,” said Power. The players, coaches, and volunteers at Gateway Curling Club are like a family away from home, and Power looks forward to celebrating with everyone, win or lose. “There’s a lot of camaraderie between the players. A lot of the times when we practice, the players are playing against each other, but at the end of the game they go together into the lounge area, they’re all sitting around chatting with each other. That’s the nature of curling, it’s a very social game,” said Power. “I’m looking forward to going down with the parents and the kids, because we live in a small community, so you know everyone in the program, you know most of the parents, and the more the merrier. We are hoping next year to go down with two girls teams and hopefully a boys team too. The more that are going, I think, the greater the experience.”

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