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John Shuster, skip of the Untied States team, shouts instructions from the house during men's curling competition against Denmark at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

John Shuster, skip of the Untied States team, shouts instructions from the house during men's curling competition against Denmark at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Last call for curling groundswell

Last Modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 1:36 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Sadly, I’m afraid the groundswell movement that I was envisioning never quite materialized.

Four years this fine city has had to do something, to take action, to be bold and resourceful and possibly progressive.

Four years!

Maybe it’s red tape, maybe just the normal civic foot-dragging, but we need some leadership to step forward, put politics aside and march forward with liberty and progress for all to an exciting future.

Four years, people. Four years … and still not one hint of a honest-to-goodness curling rink in our fair city.

But it’s not too late.

The Winter Olympics are bringing it front and center once again, on television no less.

You don’t think this weather is trying to tell us something? OK, I’m not saying Hackberry should put in a bid to host the next Winter Games, but if we’re going to suffer through ice storms during the war on global warming, is it too much to ask to get a curling rink around this place?

We’re getting the ice — and, no, it turns out that pickup truck-spinning on the off-ramp is not an Olympic sport.

Curling, though, I can’t get enough of it on TV, occasionally even mesmerized, even though it appears our fellow American brethren are somewhat challenged at it.

This can be our sport.

We need a sport for the kids that can last them a lifetime, which is to say, an Olympic-quality activity played for beers that can be easily performed with a cigarette dangling from your mouth and quarters lined up for the next game.

If you’ve forgotten, or if you’ve never heard of curling, fortunately I have this handy primer from the first call to arms four years ago.

I had studied up on it (well, Googled it for a few minutes) for this handy primer:

Q: Is curling really a sport?

A: Oh, there you go again. Probably one of those highbrow traditionalists who thinks darts isn’t a sport and pool sharks aren’t athletes.

Of course it’s a sport. It’s on TV isn’t it?

Q: When did curling originate?

A: It actually was invented in 1998 for a reality television show. No, no, wait. I remember it way back, popping up occasionally on the old “Wide World of Sports” show when they still used those Wicked-Witch-of-the-West brooms. The year 1998 was probably when it became an Olympic sport. It’s roots go back quite a bit further, maybe as far back as 1511, which is the oldest inscription ever found on anything related to the sport. It was over in Scotland or somewhere ancient. But Canada, which is always looking for innovative ways to use its chronic surplus of ice, is pretty much the epicenter these days.

Q: How did the sport start?

A: Alcohol is suspected. Apparently you mix it with Too Much Time on Your Hands and — voilà! — you’ve got curling.

Q: Is it hard?

A: No.

Q: What do you need to play?

A: About 50 yards of ice (15 feet wide), a couple of brooms and, of course, the all-important “stone” which is more commonly referred to as a “rock.”

Also, four players to a side, who take turns sliding the “stone” or, if he/she prefers, “rock.”

Q: What kind of cash we talking about?

A: It’s not cheap. The high-end “rocks” we’re watching in the Olympics can run you $1,500 or better, maybe more for the monogrammed models. That’s prized and mostly polished granite we’re talking about, all of it coming from a single quarry on an island off the Ayrshire Coast, which, as we all know, is in Scotland. Or maybe Finland. I forget. But this need be no hindrance. The literature says budget-conscious (cheap) curlers often whip one up out of common concrete, and, best I can tell, a frozen ham or pork roast would work just as well.

Q:

OK, give us the rules.

A: You play 10 ends. Apparently they misspelled innings, because it’s like an inning in baseball. They alternate sliding that rock down toward that bull’s-eye (except they call it a button). Every end each team throws eight of them and, in layman’s terms, if you’re closest to the “button” you get a point, plus another point for any “stones” that are closer than your opponent’s closest stone, or rock.

Q: Is there strategy?

A: Probably.

Q: Sounds simple.

A: Yeah, but, in fact, the curling rule book is thicker than the U.S. tax code. I’d give you details but it would only make your head hurt.

Actually, curling is very much a “gentleman’s game” where you’re expected to call fouls on yourself.

Q: Like golf?

A: Yeah. In other words, if you think your opponent cheated, it is customary that you hit him over the head with the 44-pound “stone” of your choice.

Q: I was wondering, what would happen if one of the sweepers accidentally or on purpose knocked one of the rocks away or touched the one he/she was sweeping?

A: Me too. And it’s not pretty. Just pray it doesn’t happen in the Olympics because 99.8 percent of that 4-foot thick rule book is devoted to the variations, options and implications of it. Trust me, it will take them six months to sort it out.

Q: What happens if it’s tied after 10 ends?

A: They go to extra endings (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Q: What do the sweepers actually do and what effect does it have on the rock?

A: The honest answer is that they do absolutely nothing, nada. Do not listen to the TV commentators drone on about how critical sweeping is to the “weight” (speed) or “turn” (rotation) or “line” (direction) of the “slide” (throw). We are all way more smarter than to fall for that.

The problem is, there are four members to a team and only one can “slide” it at a time. So, as to not make all of the others feel left out, two of them have been sold on the idea that their silly sweeping has some effect. Something that sounds like chemistry about how friction slicks up the ice and makes the “stone” rotate faster. Or maybe it’s slower, I forget and I lost the Google bookmark on it.

But it’s an old wive’s tale, generally dismissed by modern experts, like me.

Q: Why does the thrower carry a broom even though he/she does no sweeping?

A: For balance, they say, which can come in handy if you’ve already won a few beers.

Q: So what does the fourth team member do?

A: He makes sure they’ve got enough quarters rounded up for the next game.

Q: So what’s to stop you from winding up like a bowler and letting that baby fly and scattering the stones like the break in a pool game?

A: That’s the best part. I’ve found nothing in the rules that strictly prohibit this. And somebody really needs to try it, hopefully tonight on TV.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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