By Indiana Nash
NISKAYUNA- The rink is usually a crisp 40 degrees and the distinct sound of granite stones smacking together often rings throughout the Schenectady Curling Club.
It’s a sound that Niskayuna residents Anna and Tom Shank welcome several times a week.
“I guess you could say it was empty nest syndrome,” Anna said of why the couple gave curling a shot.
They joined the Club in 2009 after attending an open house event. Both needed a sport that could be flexible with their physical conditions.
But what began as a search for a sport, has turned into the finding of a new community.
One that many in the Capital Region have enjoyed since 1907, when the Schenectady Curling Club was formed.
Curling, which originated in Scotland, is played with 44 pound granite stones and sticks.
From humble beginnings – in the 1500s it was first played on ponds in the Scottish countryside- the sport made its way to the Olympics in 1924.
Fred Mackintosh, a curler with the Club for over 30 years, said that membership and interest always spikes around the winter olympics.
However, since he’s been in the club, the sport has only grown in the Capital Region and throughout the United States.
“It keeps evolving,” Mackintosh said.
Not only has the style of play evolved over the years, the audience that curling appeals to has doubled in the past few decades.
“We have little kids playing, we have people who are in their 90s out there,” Mackintosh said.
He works with the league’s’ Little Rocks program, which teaches children ages 6 to 11 the basics of the sport.
“We use smaller stones until they graduate up to the regular ones,” Mackintosh said.
Throughout the season, which runs from October into March, there are curling leagues for juniors and adults several times a week. The Club also hosts team building programs with businesses like General Electric and local law firms.
“It is the only sport where you can have other people help your shot,” Mackintosh said.
When players are just starting out, Mackintosh said that they come in having seen olympic athletes play and think that they’ll be able to catch onto the sport without a hitch.
“They often say, “Oh, that looks easy. I’ll be able to do that,”” Mackintosh said.
But after getting out on the ice and testing out the sport, they start to see how technical the sport is.
“The skill set you see at the olympics is way up here,” Mackintosh said, mentioning with his hand towards the ceiling.
While curling is a technical sport, it has a sense of humor and a sense of community. One that emanates from its players and is echoed throughout the various bonspiels.
Nope, that’s not a typo.
The delivery and sweeping skills of curling players are tested in events known as bonspiels.
Schenectady’s Curling Club competes in (and hosts) several of these each year.
When the Club is hosting the bonspiel, they ensure that each traveling team has a place to go for dinner.
“We have house parties and we’re assigned different teams. I have three teams coming to my house for the SOB [Schenectady Open Bonspiel]. I’ll have it catered and we’ll all just get together for dinner,” Mackintosh said.
This same openly social atmosphere reaches through to league nights and almost every curling event.
“That’s the tradition of curling,” Tom Shank said.