Indoor sports leagues offer fun way to stay fit when weather is colder

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Steve Buffington competed in a recreational soccer league for years and looked for something new when it ended.

He learned of a curling club and decided to give it a shot. Ten years later, he's the Pittsburgh Curling Club's president.

“It's just really enjoyable,” said Buffington. “It's a low-stress sport. There's a lot of interaction with your teammates. It's very similar to bowling, in that you have a four-person team. But when you're bowling, one person does everything, whereas in curling, the four teammates really do work as a cohesive unit.”

The club formed following the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, when a half-dozen or so people grew interested in curling from watching it on TV.

Today, more than 100 people play in two leagues on Saturday nights from late September to mid-March. Teams travel the Northeast to compete in tournaments.

Organizers say participating in indoor sports clubs or leagues is a sensible — and fun — way for people to stay fit when colder weather makes outdoor exercise more difficult.

“I think that it helps people to stick with New Year's resolutions or to remain active as you start getting more social over the holidays,” said Gretchen North, associate vice president of healthy living for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

“It's good to know that you're a part of something larger than yourself and the accountability is there,” she said.

Though some facilities that host teams require a membership, others such as Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park welcome nonmembers.

“Your peak season is more wintertime, when people can't get outside,” said Cindy Runco, director of sports and recreation at Orchard Hill.

Many community centers, gyms and even private companies offer year-round indoor group fitness classes such as yoga, Zumba, tai chi or Pilates. Plenty of competitive opportunities also exist in more traditional sports such as basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, broomball — hockey with brooms instead of sticks and shoes instead of skates — and, yes, curling.

“When I stopped playing (soccer), I was upset because there wasn't going to be a competitive outlet,” Buffington said. “There are a few opportunities (in curling).”

Among better-known leagues is the Pittsburgh Sports League, formed as part of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project in 2000. It offers 18 sports throughout the year, 14 of them indoors; more than 20,000 people take part.

“We try to offer more than just the ability to go out and play a sport,” Pittsburgh Sports League director Greg Mitrik said. “It's great to stay active. On top of going out and getting the exercise, we also give people the opportunity to visit parts of the city they may have never visited and ... to meet some people.”

Because youth leagues compete for gym time, Mitrik said the Pittsburgh Sports League sometimes holds events in YMCAs, ice rinks and other facilities, including libraries. The Pittsburgh Curling Club meets on Saturdays only — at Robert Morris Island Sports Center — because of competition for space, but other organizations have their own facilities. The Orchard Hill Church opened a gymnasium last year.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh operates 14 facilities and offers sports leagues at seven with gymnasiums.

“It's just fun and energizing,” North said. “It is competitive, but it's competitive in a fun way. I think we do a good job at inclusion for all fitness levels.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Contact him at 412-380-8527.

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