Only a few months from now, curling spectators will hurry hard to the ENMAX Centre to witness some world-class rock-throwing action. The best curlers on the planet will arrive in Lethbridge as we host the 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship from March 30 –April 7.The World Curling Federation and Curling Canada announced last year that Lethbridge was successful in its hosting bid, making this the third opportunity in seven years to see world champions crowned in our city. While it will be the first time hosting the men’s championship, our city hosted the World Women’s Championship at the ENMAX in 2012 and, in 2017, the World Mixed Doubles and World Senior Men’s and Women’s Championships at the ATB Centre.
“Lethbridge has a proven track record of success when it comes to hosting world-class curling championships, on and off the ice, and I’m positive 2019 will be no exception,” said Resby Coutts, Chair of Curling Canada’s Board of Governors, in a release. But beyond the draw of the prime curling infrastructure and abundant hotels and restaurants, is the Southern Alberta hospitality and spirit of volunteerism key to the success of any major event.
It could be a daunting task to manage all the fine details of a large community event. However, Jody Meli, Vice-Chair of the Lethbridge Host Committee and Director of Facilities, says Curling Canada “does an amazing job” with helping the local committee to put the event together. They ensure local sponsors and the community know what to expect and generate excitement around the event.
“I’ve seen it transform over the three events that I’ve done and each time it gets a little bit easier,” she says. Jody is one of the “three musketeers”, as they affectionately call each other; the other two being Trish Wallace, Vice Chair of Hosting, and Karlen McDonald, Vice Chair of Special Events. Together with Gord McNabb, Curling Canada’s Event Operations Manager, the team is responsible for organizing and directing approximately 300 volunteers throughout the entire event.
“It’s everything from the 50/50 draws to running the Patch to drivers to just making sure the ceremonies are pulled off. It’s a lot,” says Jody. “We don’t typically have trouble getting volunteers to come out. People will come out to support this kind of event in Lethbridge, so we’re really excited about that.”
How well the event turns out “really is determined by the amount of time and dedication you put in prior to,” says Trish, who noted the action isn’t all at the rink. It will be a huge community effort to welcome the athletes and their entourages and to ensure they know what’s happening and how to navigate the city, with the help of many transportation volunteers. There will also be volunteers to help transform the ENMAX ice into a curling rink worthy of worldwide attention.
“We take over the ENMAX Centre for 10 days, almost two weeks,” says Jody. “They have to paint the ice and put in the rings and the hacks, then flood it with more ice to make it into curling ice, which is pebbled ice. There’s a magic to that.”
If you’ve never watched the fascinating sport, curling, also known as “the roaring game”, involves two teams of four players that each slide stones on a sheet of rectangular ice, with the goal of landing it as close as possible to the intended target. The term “curling” comes in because when the stone glides across the ice, it curls like a bowling ball curving down a lane. The goal is to get your team’s stones into the bullseye or “house” at the end of the ice sheet. The team to collect the most points, wins.
“I think it’s really awesome when you think about -these are the best curlers in the world coming to Lethbridge,” says Jody. “Men’s curling, if you watch it on TV, they say it’s a game of inches and it’s millimeters some of the shots they make. The fact they can throw this stone down the ice and land it exactly where they want it or hit something exactly on the spot they want to, it’s amazing the talent that’s there.”
This is the third event with Curling Canada the “three musketeers” have collaborated on. They also helped organize the 2007 Scotties and the 2012 Women’s Worlds.
“I get so much joy out of seeing an event come to completion and it is interesting along the way because you get to meet new people and make new friends, and you get to be a part of something bigger,” says Trish. “There’s an inherent amount of satisfaction to managing people, managing the event and just seeing it unfold. It’s a really rewarding experience. It’s not even just about the event, but the experience you take away from it for years.”
For Karlen, the experience is close to her heart. Curling runs in her family’s blood, and she speaks warmly about her daughter, Taylor, whose team won gold for Canada in the 2014 World Junior Women’s Curling Championships and in the 2017 Winter Universiade.
When the World Men’s Curling Championship comes to town, it won’t only be about watching the sport, Jody is quick to point out. There will be activities going on in the stands, promotions throughout the city, and the opportunity to go to The Patch where there will be entertainment, cool curling contests, and autograph sessions. It will be a chance to learn more about the curling teams up close and personal.
“I think what people can experience if they come to the event –it’s entertaining, it’s got lots of really good vibe to it,” says Jody. “This is one of those things where they are fantastic world-known curlers coming and later they’re partying at the Patch, or they’ll sign your autographs and they’re shaking kids’ hands. It’s really more of an intimate sport...”“We’re going to have all these people from all over the world that you get to see on TV –they’re going to be in Lethbridge! It’s going to be cool,” says Trish. “Plus, they get to experience –many, many people love to come to Canada, and they get to experience Southern Alberta.”