Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rider pride in roaring game?

A green scene at Swift Current women's worlds

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SWIFT CURRENT -- They're not just curling fans.

Worse, they're Riders fans.

So when father Gale and son Rorie Dickie got all dolled up for the world women's curling championship, it was a fashion statement that wouldn't seem out of place at Mosaic Stadium. The father was wearing a Riders jersey and red-and-white Viking hat purchased at Wal-Mart. The kid was in Roughriders colours, too, complete with a green-and-white Tina Turner-style wig.

"It's not exactly like a Rider game," Gale demurred. "We don't have melons on (their heads). We don't have our faces painted. No tattoos."

No matter. Just spreading the word.

"It's the opportunity for the world to see this is Rider country," Dickie, the younger, explained. "I don't think China knows about us yet."

That's debatable. In a country of one billion, there's bound to be a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan somewhere. Trust us.

But just as Riders fans are embedded in the DNA of this Prairie province, so are diehards of the roaring game. Anywhere else, these worlds might have been lost or ignored -- especially in a year when the Olympics and the Brier were held in the last month.

These folks in what's affectionately known as Speedy Creek could have been forgiven if they were all curled out. Indeed, the Brier in Halifax was a resounding failure, falling tens of thousands short in potential ticket sales. So it was curious to see how the locals in Swift Current -- with a population of about 12,000 -- might view (or not view) the 2010 worlds, given that both the Olympic gold medalist (Sweden's Anette Norberg) and silver medalist (Canada's Cheryl Bernard) are not even in attendance.

And while there are six Olympic teams in Swift Current, out of the field of 12, only one -- defending world champ from China Bingyu Wang -- finished better than .500, rallying to win bronze in Vancouver.

Far from being an afterthought, however, residents of southwestern Saskatchewan have embraced this little bonspiel with both arms. From the outset, they've filled the 2,400-seat iPlex arena for almost every draw. There was an overflow crowd of about 2,600 on Monday night to witness Team Canada's Jennifer Jones squeak past Wang 10-9.

Not only that, the stands have resembled a poor man's Olympics, with hundreds of Team Canada supporters wearing some form of red and white; from jerseys to tuques to Dr. Suess-like floppy hats. A couple of weeks ago, a local farm dealership placed an ad in the newspaper to sell, of all things, cowbells.

"This is the worlds," noted local Scott Schuler. "This is big-time stuff. We may get this (championship) again because of this (success), but if we don't, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

It certainly hasn't hurt that Jones -- along with third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin -- have delivered, piling up six straight victories, including a nail-biting 9-6 win over Denmark Tuesday morning to sit atop the medal standings. Jones & Co. will face Team USA, 4-1, in what promises to be another packed Tuesday evening draw at the iPlex.

But clearly, the enthusiasm here is proof of a spinoff effect of the patriotism that reached a fever pitch during the Vancouver Games -- where donning anything with the Maple Leaf became a national uniform last February. Even in heartland communities like Swift Current, where fans attending Broncos WHL games a few weeks back were all decked out in Team Canada gear, too.

"We are Canadians, man," said Schuler. "And if you want to hear it, we'll talk about it. This place was red, even more so when it came down to the (Olympic) finals."

These days, however, the curlers have forced the Broncos out on the road for their playoffs with the Brandon Wheat Kings, holding their home games in Regina. Said Schuler, who takes tickets at Broncos games: "Some people were upset about it at first, but now they know this is the best decision we've ever made. Swift Current is so impressed by this. It's just amazing."

And if you ask Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones, right back at 'ya, Swifty.

"We can't thank them enough," Jones said. "Being at the world championships is an experience of a lifetime. When you're at home and the crowd is behind you, it's beyond words. They're making dreams come true, and it must be pretty cool to be part of that."

How special? Enough for melon-headed Riders faithful to shamelessly root for a crew of curlers from Manitoba.

When the Dickies were reminded that Jones and her teammates were undoubtedly Bombers fans, the son wearing a green-and-white wig smiled a crooked smile and said, "They could change their minds."

Riders fans, eh? Always with the hoping.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2010 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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