Sunday was another good day at the Pembina Curling Club. It was this season’s second fall Learn to Curl session day at the club which is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
Club President Gord MacKay says the club has made a real effort in recent years to get new people in the facility through their Learn to Curl programs. In late October, there were 70 people in attendance. For this day in mid-November, they had pre-registered 96 participants scheduled to go on the ice in three groups of 32 each.
As MacKay watched the first session on the ice, he acknowledged that only 20 had showed up and speculated that the arrival of Winnipeg’s winter on the weekend may have discouraged some from attending.
By the end of the day, 19 people had attended session two and 25 were there for session three – a total of 64 people, most of them stepping on the curling ice for the first time. “Pretty darn good,” he said.
The three session instructors included Christine MacKay – a recently successful junior & Scotties level curler who has stepped back from competition while she focuses on her education; Lisa McLeod – a Pembina youth program graduate and successful competitive player hoping to qualify on the coming weekend for the 2021 Scotties; and Rick Sproule – a club past-president & Honourary Life Member and good club level curler. They focused on exposure to the game and technical instruction suitable to the age of the group of people they were supervising.
In conversation, MacKay emphasized the importance of getting new people into our curling facilities. He knows one session won’t turn them into curlers but that it can excite them about the sport as something that may interest them.
He suggests it isn’t hard to get people to come to the club for the experience of one Learn to Curl session. “The real challenge is figuring out how we can get them to become active participants in the club,” he says.
Pembina’s next effort begins with what they call their five-week miniseries – a fairly short commitment for the individuals but long enough to give them a taste of regular participation in the sport. The miniseries are offered at different times on weekends and weekday evening.
The Learn to Curl initiative began at Pembina in 2015. Perhaps not surprisingly the best response was for a February event in 2018 when excitement from the Olympics was an important factor. They’ll be gearing up again for a February program after the 2022 Olympics but there is a downside in the fact that there is little time left to the Winnipeg curling season after February and giving them that immediate experience is important.
The club has also learned that promotion of the Learn to Curl sessions can be quite inexpensive. “For October we advertised on social media – twitter, facebook, the club website,” he explained. “For this November session, we had the added benefit of exposure on a CTV Morning Live feature.”
He notes that the response came from significantly different demographic groups. For October, the response was a very high percentage of new-Canadian Asian families, a group which curling organizers everywhere would like to encourage into the sport. For November, there was a much higher percentage from the traditional curling market group – another experience to be learned from, he suggests.
Asked if the participants in the sessions are mainly from the immediate area of the Pembina Curling Club, Gord MacKay says he suspects a very high percentage is but he isn’t particularly concerned about it.
He is Pembina‘s President this year but he is also a lifetime curling supporter. If his club’s efforts to introduce curling to new people turns into possible future curlers in other city facilities, he is perfectly OK with that.