Curling has devoted following, rich history in Petersham

  • Erin Poulin, left, and Paul Anderson, right, sweep the ice during a game of curling at the Petersham Curling Club, Friday, Jan. 31, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Petersham Curling Club members compete in a friendly match Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.Photo by Andy Castillo. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Petersham Curling Club members compete in a friendly match Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018.Photo by Andy Castillo Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Vincent "Bill" Purple, 93, in the Petersham Curling Club. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

Recorder Staff
Saturday, February 03, 2018

PETERSHAM — Overhead lights shimmered off ‘pebbled’ ice — made rough by frozen water droplets — as Chuck Hartwell of New Salem watched three teammates at the other end of the Petersham Curling Club’s slick curling sheet prepare for another point attempt.

“Alright, let’s go for a quad!” he called, right before Athol resident Skye Padellaro, 42, gracefully ‘delivered’ an oval curling stone with a slight clockwise rotation toward the ‘house,’ a bullseye shaped goal, where Hartwell stood.

Running alongside the now sliding stone, Sharon Begley, 64, and Scott Poulin, 30, ‘swept’ the ice vigorously with nylon brooms — melting it with friction and therefore prolonging the stone’s glide — at Hartwell’s directions, “sweep!” and “up!” The stone slid into the target area, knocking one of opposing team’s stones out of the goal.

“As ‘skip’ (team captain), you have to be able to read the ice, anticipate the curl, and predict how far the stone will go,” Hartwell explained after.

Unlike many of the club’s 100 or so members, who range in age from 5 to 75 and became interested in curling during Olympic season, Hartwell was introduced to the sport by his wife, Cindy Hartwell, who, in turn, “started as a junior curler in the late ‘60s in Petersham. I curled for five or six years, quit for 30, and started again in 2006,” she said, watching from behind glass in the North Main Street club’s bar area. Both Hartwells retired from the telecommunications industry a number of years ago.

Her father, Vincent “Bill” Purple, 93 — a founding member who curled for more than three decades — sat next to her.

Purple flew B-17 bombers over Europe with the Army Air Corps in World War II, and later worked at the Union Twist Drill Company. Purple owns the building where the drill company’s modern reincarnation, LP Athol Corporation, is based. In the late 1950s, Stanley L. Holland, the drill company’s then president and an avid curler, relocated from a plant in Quebec, his home, to Athol.

Soon after, Holland purchased land from the Petersham Country Club and founded the Petersham Curling Club in 1960. Purple was president of the country club at the time and, because of that and his connection to the company, he became actively involved in Holland’s endeavor. Purple continued in the club for 30 years with his wife, Helen Purple (who passed away about six years ago), because of strong camaraderie with other members, and because “it was a fun game — we had a lot of fun,” Purple said.

“I’m pleased that it’s still in existence,” he continued, remembering one year when, after an end-of-season party at the club, a few friends snuck onto the curling sheet with the lights off and lit a fire, pretending to ice fish. When the lights came back on, “he’d caught a nice fish that we bought at the supermarket,” Purple joked.

“No one expected any ice fishing here,” he said.

A brief history

Over the years, curling has changed dramatically. According to the official Olympic games website, curling is “one of the world’s oldest team sports,” originating “in the 16th century in Scotland, where games were played during winter on frozen ponds and lochs.”

Back then, curlers wore flat-bottomed river shoes and swept the ice with standard brooms.

Thirty years ago, “it was not uncommon for women to wear kilts. They used to smoke on the ice,” Cindy Hartwell said. Strategies were different back then, too. Purple described the game as more ‘take out’ focused, meaning that players tried to knock opponents stones out of the target instead of strategizing for points around them.

“Our scores at the end of the day were one or two,” Purple said. These days, curling is more precise. There’s more strategy involved, and more people involved, too. Petersham Curling Club is one of four dedicated curling clubs in Massachusetts — one of 165 nationwide.

With the advent of televised Winter Olympic coverage (curling became an Olympic sport in the 1920s) and online videos, local club membership has gone from almost non-existent a few decades ago, to thriving today.

And, with the Winter Olympics starting in a few days, when many people will watch professional curling, Hank Stolz, a member, expects that number to climb.

“The club is going through a renaissance. We’re expect to be up well over 100,” said Stolz, who himself became interested in curling during a previous year’s Olympics. “We have members from Greenfield, Worcester, we have members who come all the way from Keene, N. H., and Charlemont. People will drive an hour to curl.”

For those who might be interested in joining the club, there is an open house scheduled this Saturday, Feb. 3, and Saturday, Feb. 17, both from 6 to 9 p.m. Meanwhile, more information can be found at: www.petershamcurling.org. Contact Stolz at 508-404-5509, or email olympics2018@petershamcurling.org.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo