When Jack MacDuff won the Brier Canadian men’s curling championship in 1976, it ignited something within Gary Oke.
In his early-20s and living in St. John’s at the time, Oke was friends with MacDuff and rinkmate Toby McDonald and their victory inspired him to give the game a try.
Now 59, Oke is one of the most decorated curlers in the province, having competed nationally himself, and now stands as the Corner Brook Curling Association president.
His passion for the game is evident in how he describes it — as a precision sport that takes equal parts talent, strategy and, yes, even strength.
“Sweeping in curling is very underestimated,” he said. “It’s very hard work.”
He said he’s done practically everything there is to do in the sport, but his interest has been rejuvenated again over the past few years and he doesn’t even really know why.
He just wishes more people felt that way.
The local club is coming off a low year in membership numbers, with 108 adults and about 25 kids in the junior program. Oke recalled a period of time in the 1990s when there would be over 200 people involved. He said he’d be happy if they could get it back up to around 130-135 members and he wants to make the sport more open for people to try.
In years past, the club offered Learn to Curl weeks where novices could get out and give it a whirl for free. The problem, he said, is the ice was still full of veteran curlers, which perhaps wasn’t the best environment for newbies to learn. This year’s Learn to Curl week, which was a target date of early October, will see the ice completely off limits to anyone but rookies to the game, save for a few members offering instruction.
“Maybe people walking off the street were a bit intimidated, and maybe they weren’t,” he said. “But we’re just going to try it.”
He’s also hoping the club’s hosting of the 2014 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Curling Championships this winter could increase the sport’s profile locally. The semifinals and final of the tournament will be broadcast nationally on TSN.
The key to growing the game, he said, lies within the junior program.
“We’ve got to get the kids involved as much as we can,” he said, noting the junior program stood out as a positive last season. “We can build on that, I hope.”
On Monday night, Oke and about 25 club members came out to help clean the rink and lounge area of the club, to prepare for ice-making, which he expected would begin this morning.
He said it takes about 12-15 days for the ice-making to be completed, if all goes well, which would allow the curling season to officially begin around Oct. 5 or 6.
For more information, check out the club’s website at www.cornerbrookcurlingclub.com.