Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 01/17/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
It was a historic night in Manitoba curling, and it went the way so many curling nights do, cold pints and warm smiles soundtracked by the swish of brooms.
For the first time this year, women were on the ice at the province's biggest bonspiel, and junior curlers too.
This is how the former MCA Bonspiel, rebranded now as the Manitoba Open, made history on Thursday night. It is the oldest and longest-running bonspiel of its kind, and until this year the competition was for men alone.
This time, it is open to any team.
In the first draw of the week at Pembina Curling Club, former world champion Chris Scalena led her women's rink against Granite's Jamie Hay and his crew, while mixed teams slid down other sheets.
At the opening ceremony at Pembina Curling Club, a 67-year-old building where the evening women's games are still called the Business Girls League, the change made ripples.
"This makes it official," said Manitoba justice minister Andrew Swan, clad in the jaunty hat and long red sweater adopted as a uniform by his own Thistle team. "It doesn't matter what your gender is, your age, your sexual orientation... you have an opportunity to beat a team like mine."
Oh, even putting the sense of social justice aside, this change from MCA Bonspiel to true Manitoba Open has been coming for a very long time.
"I think this is just fantastic," said Scalena, 59, buzzing about the crowded upstairs lounge at Pembina as she prepared to take the ice. "I sort of thought in the past, it's probably going to eventually move into that. I'm glad that it happened while I'm still actively curling."
For years, organizers watched as entries in the MCA Bonspiel slowly dwindled, and a parallel ladies' bonspiel shrunk until it died.
The popularity peaked in 1988, when 1,280 teams signed up to set the world record, but after that the numbers dipped. Last year, 448 teams signed on to play in the bonspiel's 125th anniversary: That was a highlight, after years when entries slipped down to the 300-team mark.
By that time, members of the CurlManitoba board had already decided to open the bonspiel up to all curlers, though they chose to wait until 2014 to celebrate the 125th-year milestone in keeping with tradition. But of course, women are part of curling tradition too, and at Pembina some of their portraits stood vigil over the Manitoba Open's historic opening night, such as black-and-white photos of women with names like Betty and Hazel, who once led their leagues.
So really, the change makes sense. This year, with entries capped at 256 -- as many as could fit in Winnipeg clubs alone -- about 20 women's or mixed rinks signed up before the spots sold out.
For organizers, that's an encouraging sign, as they look to navigate curling through these briskly changing times; besides the usual berths to the men's Safeway Championship, they've also added some big new prizes, including a trip to Las Vegas and a luxury car.
"It's an important step in maintaining the tradition of the bonspiel," CurlManitoba past president Resby Coutts said, as he raised a glass to the tournament he has loved for decades.
"It would be a shame for it to disappear. It could continue as a men's only event... but since the one association now represents all curlers, it makes sense that our entire constituency should be included."
Still, no change is ever seamless.
"There are some among the male gender who don't like the idea of being beaten by women's team," Coutts said, and then he grinned. "They'll get used to it. Because they will be beaten."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 0
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