Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The 'roaring game' has become a screaming match

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Do we really need to yell (and screech and holler) so much when we play the sport of curling?

Every time I try to point out that all this noise is even mildly annoying I'm told, "It's just part of the game." But I think I'm part of a silent majority.

Please don't get me wrong. I am a huge fan of curling. But I started wondering about the shouting when a friend from California, to whom the sport appeared a quaint combination of shuffleboard and kitchen cleaning, cowered when he saw Ontario's Russ Howard bark orders to his men's team. "Hard! Hard! Hurry har-r-r-r-d!"

"Why does that man have to be so mean to his teammates?" my friend asked. Despite my assurances that Howard is a real nice guy in every other way, he was the epitome of the mean boss to my friend. Or the worst kind of bully.

I mean, look how stern Howard's face appears when he screams at his underlings. Imagine, just for sake of argument, if he yelled at a child that way. If you didn't know he was curling, you would certainly think he was a complete jerk.

I shuddered at the kind of image Howard presents of Canadians to the rest of the world when he went on to represent Canada at international competitions.

My criticism of this cacophony has even got some people calling me sexist. Me! Who once berated a fellow writer for labelling loud women "shrill."

Listening to a women's curling game in which every single rock has to be cheered with shouts of "Swe-e-e-e-p" and "Woah" and, of course, those old male standards, "hurry" and "hard" is just too, uh, difficult.

Women have a higher vocal range, and for the first time in my life, I find myself turning my TV down when women are screaming "Yes! Yes! Ye-s-s-s!"

I have pointed out that when a skip provides the instruction he or she wants to convey to the sweepers, there is no need to keep repeating such simple orders. I guess I can accept the fact the skip might be "cheering" the team on, or even cajoling them, but when some of these skips maintain what comes across as mean-spirited, excessively harsh barking, visions of a marine sergeant at boot camp spring to mind.

They even started putting microphones on the skips a few years back. I could accept this if the goal is to provide the audience with access to insightful strategy sessions, but at a recent women's competition, neither skip could scratch out more than a hoarse whisper late in the rounds.

And now the skips have started yelling at the rocks!

"Come on! Bend! Curl, damn it! Stop! (or St-a-w-w-w-p!)"

You have to wonder what is made out of granite here.

Screaming at the top of one's lungs is a big part of the game now, but I think some of Manitoba's grand old gentlemen, like Howard "Pappy" Wood, would be wondering what the hack is going on. Sure, late in a game, or even an end, teams might get more excited and pick it up a notch. But to be screaming at the top of one's lungs for three hours at a time is just too much.

They call curling the "roaring game," but that comes from the sound the rocks make as they slide down the ice. The game has a proud heritage and a tradition of sportsmanship where the players even call fouls on themselves.

I'm sure the nice folks who started the game never intended for it to become such a screaming match.

Don Marks is a writer in Winnipeg who skipped a team at the old Grain Exchange Curling Club using nothing but yelps of "Yep" and "Nope."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2012 A11

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