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Curling gets some ice time at Neville Island

| Monday, July 6, 2009

Nearly 200 people from all over North America came to Neville Island to spend the July 4th weekend indoors and on ice.

The Pittsburgh Curling Club's fourth annual "TropiCurl" curling tournament began Thursday and concluded yesterday at Neville Island's Robert Morris Island Sports Center.

The Toronto-based team of Dennis Moretto, Bruce Gillespie, Peter DiClemente and Elizabeth Wellnough won the main tournament ahead of 47 other teams, outlasting squads from Seattle, Arizona, North Carolina and parts of Canada near the arctic circle.

"(Pittsburgh is) a wonderful city," said Wellnough, 45. "We wanted to see more of Pittsburgh, but unfortunately, we kept winning. So we didn't get a chance to go see the fireworks or catch anything fun like that."

Curling is normally a winter sport, and its season typically lasts from September through March or April. The 7-year-old Pittsburgh Curling Club began hosting the mid-summer tournament four years ago to cut the six-month curling layoff in half.

Since drawing 40 teams in its inaugural year, the tournament has had 48 each year since, running as many as five games at once inside the Clearview Arena.

"It's become a staple on the curling calendar," said Pittsburgh Curling Club president Andy Banfield. "We've had a lot of folks come all four years. It's a good time for curling, because usually the season ends in March, and you haven't seen your friends in a few months. You come back and see them here, and we're pretty centrally located with all the hotbeds."

The Pittsburgh Curling Club is one of three curling clubs in Pennsylvania, the other two being in Scranton and Philadelphia. It's a charitable organization dedicated to teaching and promoting the sport of curling, and it has a sister club in Plainfield, N.J. Banfield says they've traveled to compete against other clubs and in tournaments, known as "bonspiels," in Cleveland, Laurel, Md., and Rochester, N.Y.

The club plays competitively at Neville Island on Saturdays throughout the season and also gives instructional lessons for $10 to prospective curlers. Since the club's formation in 2002, its membership has grown from 15 to 124 and can be anticipated to bloom further as the 2010 Winter Olympics approach.

"The Olympics are a big factor," Banfield said. "The more they show it on TV, people get more and more curious. During the last Olympics in Torino (2006), we were getting 18,000 hits a day on our website.

"It's a sport that if you pick it up, you can be good no matter where you're from," Banfield said. "We have kids 10 years old, and we have players who are 80 years old. I've gone to tournaments and gotten beaten by four grandmothers. Curling people are fantastic."

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