Curling has existed as a hobby and competitive sport around the world since the 17th century. In 1924, curling made its Olympic debut. Now, people all over the United States enjoy the sport with one condition needed for the enjoyment of the game: ice.
You have to have an abundance of ice in order to play the game, which involves a broom and polished granite stones. The problem for groups such as the Orlando Curling Club and its founder Bryan Pittard, is that a humid and hot weather environment doesn’t bode well for a sport that requires frozen water.
A former digital media and music professor at UCF, Pittard leads his group of fellow curling enthusiasts to the RDV Sportslex Ice Den in Maitland as often as possible. But lack of ice time has been a real challenge.
There are two types of ice rinks, and the curling club is forced to practice and play on a rink meant for hockey and skating. What they need and want is something called a dedicated curling rink, which doesn’t require the constant care and set-up of arena rinks, like the one Pittard and company practices on.
“Our club members are all here helping out, and we have instructors who have been curling for years,” Pittard said. “We have the volunteers who prepare the ice, because a curling rink is not the same ice as a skating rink. You have to spend 30 to 45 minutes of prep to make the ice.”
But with the help of UCF employee Brian Ormiston, the club might one day find a home at UCF. The Michigan native grew up curling and hopes to make the sport more accessible to students.
“Discussions are in the early stages of exploring ways to connect UCF students with the Orlando Curling Club through the Rec and Wellness Center,” Ormiston said. “There are a lot of students and faculty from northern states where curling is huge. Curling is increasing in popularity and this is just a great opportunity for people to get involved with it.”
With a background in public relations working as the senior associate director of UCF football communications, Ormiston learned about the club last summer.
“I wanted to do anything I could to try and increase awareness for the club and raise momentum,” he said. “I reached out to them and told them about my job here at UCF and my focus in PR and media relations and told them I would love to help them out. I’ve been to a couple meetings and it’s been great.”
Technically a nonprofit, the club, which consists of 20 to 30 paying members, also deals with a lack of funding. Thankfully, the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation, a family foundation whose vision is for strong communities to be filled with kids who can reach their potentials and dreams, has provided a $22,000 grant.
The grant will pay for new stones, brooms and ice preparation materials. Usually, a new stone can cost up to $800, but with the donation, the club can afford to buy refurbished stones for $219 each.
“As soon as we get this worked out, we are going to get a deal with the rink to set up a weekly or by-weekly time slot so that we can have a league night,” Pittard said. “That will be the first time they can come to compete in a league structure. This will happen in the summer.”
Without a permanent practice home, the club hasn’t played in many tournaments on a competitive level. For Ormiston, the sport is a comfort.
“Whenever I go up north, and whenever I see a curling rink, it reminds me of home,” Ormiston said. “Curling is one of those things you don’t see very often in Florida … Curling can be competitive, but it’s truly a game of sportsmanship, and it’s really fun and being a part of it is just something that really brings a smile to not only my face, but everyone who takes part in it.”
Pittard predicts that by the time the next Winter Olympics rolls around, the club will be in a good spot to drastically grow and get more involved in the community.
“It’s taken a real team of us to grow and keep going,” Pittard said. “A lot of clubs grow in a Winter Olympics year because they see it on TV, and they get excited and want to do it. The fact that we are growing at a steady pace in a non-Winter Olympics year is really important and really impressive to a lot of people we talk to.
“I’m very proud of my team and what we have accomplished in the last couple of years.”
Evan Abramson is a Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Abramson and email him at EvanA@centralfloridafuture.com.