INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. — When Marietta DiTommaso of Lake Wylie talks about curling, she’s not referring to her hair.
DiTommaso and husband, Vic, have been hooked on the sport of curling for two years.
“We were invited to play and fell in love with it,” DiTommaso said.
Curling, invented in medieval Scotland, is described as similar to shuffleboard on ice. The 2014 Winter Olympics in February will be the sixth time curling, which became an official sport of the Winter Olympic Games in 1998, is part of the program.
Charlotte Centre Curling Club member Dave DeFehr of Troutman, N.C., introduced the DiTommasos to the sport.
“I was like, ‘Curling, let’s do this,’
” Marietta DiTommaso said. “It’s a very gentlemen’s game starting with everyone shaking hands.”
The Charlotte club is a mixed league with about 90 members, ages 20 to 70. Many are natives of Canada and northern U.S. states, and others are like the DiTommasos, who came to the Charlotte area via Florida.
“It’s for everybody,” said club member Jeremy Hozjan of Fort Mill. He started playing at 13 in his native Saskatchewan. “Once you try it, you get hooked. There’s just so many aspects of the game.”
He introduced his wife, Dawn, who’s from the U.S., to curling when they lived in Ohio. She had never even heard of it, he said.
“The best way to learn is to play it,” Hozjan said. “It’s a great opportunity for couples to do something that’s new and different.”
When the couple moved to the Carolinas, Hozjan said, “the hardest decision was that I’d have to give up curling. I figured I’d have to give up all winter sports when I moved South.”
But thanks to the Internet, he found a connection to a group looking to form a curling club in Charlotte.
“There’s a lot more athleticism than people realize and strategy and the social aspect,” Hozan said. “Some refer to it as chess on ice, and I wouldn’t disagree.”
The Charlotte club has met for seasonal leagues since 2009 on Friday nights at Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail.
“Anyone can pick it up,” said member Dale Jennings of Charlotte, “and they’re so welcoming here.”
Jennings, a New York native living in the Carolinas for three years, launched her curling aspirations by accident. While friends were visiting from Boston, she searched the Internet for a Southern food staple, “good grits.” Up came “Grits and Granite Bonspiel” about a curling tournament hosted by the Charlotte club. While checking out the website, charlottecurling.com, she noticed the “start Curling!’ tab.
“I came to learn,” she said, “and one year later, I’m still playing.”
David Pollard of Charlotte is from the North Carolina Outer Banks, but has always loved the cold-weather sports. “I was the first to sell snowboards in the Carolinas,” he said.
Four years ago he discovered curling and bounced from club to club in the region – there are five listed in North and South Carolina – until he found the Charlotte group online. He’s even swept against Olympic athlete and first women’s U.S. World Champion curler Debbie McCormick while in Chicago.
“You can curl anywhere in this country once you start,” Pollard said. “Just great people, that’s the curling community.”
Hozjan expects the upcoming Olympic games to spur more interest.
“We’re prepared for an influx and teaching more people,” he said.
For club members, the camaraderie is a bonus.
“The fun part is broomstacking afterward,” said Jennings, explaining it’s a tradition to go the bar for a drink together afterward.
Following a night of play, “winners treat the losers to the first round,” DiTommaso said.
The Charlotte Centre Curling Club will soon have its own home on Old Statesville Road in Charlotte.
“We are one step closer to having our own facility,” DiTommaso said.
North of city center and convenient to Interstates 77 and 85, the nearly $2 million curling facility will be about 15,000 square feet on about 2.5 acres. The nearest dedicated curling facility is in Maryland.
“We’ll have the southern most dedicated curling ice in the country,” Hozjan said. “It means we are able to hold national and international competitions, and it’s good for the economy of Charlotte.”
The nonprofit club continues to raise money and is looking for donors, including corporate sponsors for naming rights for the facility and names engraved on rocks, seats, bricks and more, Hozjan said.
“We’ve been working on the dedicated facility for curling for about two years now,” said Peter Strickland of Charlotte and head of the building committee. “We really want to get the community involved.”
Catherine Muccigrosso • 803-831-8166