For 48 junior curlers, being on the same ice as an Olympic champion like Kevin Martin or B.C. champion Jim Cotter should be reward enough, but actually learning from them was the big prize at the recently concluded Westcoast Curling Classic.
Cotter and a dozen other curlers hosted a clinic for the juniors prior to the tournament and for four young girls, it was a huge learning experience.
"You learn so much about strategy and how they're thinking about their next shots," said skip Shawna Jensen, whose South Delta team of sisters Sarah and Megan Daniels and Jensen's best friend, Katie Sim, finished runner-up in the junior competition. "We're getting more experience and we're learning more every time we play."
Jensen was even able to joke that in their practice game against Ken McArdle, they were close to beating the Royal City club skip.
"He did come straight from the dentist," said Jensen, who said her team is a good hitting team that can hold its own with most boys' teams.
That was the case on Oct. 8, when the girls played Tyler Klymchuk's team in the junior final, losing 10-5. But the game was closer than the score indicated, as the girls came back from a 3-0 first-end deficit to knot the score at 3-3 before Klymchuk put up five in the third to pull away.
Jensen took the defeat in stride, saying her team gave it all they had and perhaps an even bigger thrill was being on the same sheet of ice as the championship final between Kevin Martin and Andrew Bilesky, won by Martin 8-6.
For Sim, the second on the team, being on the ice with professionals is old hat.
"Last summer, we went to Kevin Martin's curling camp and we got some one-on-one work with them," said Sim. "It was an amazing experience."
Sim also figured out pretty quickly the biggest difference between her skills and the professionals' abilities.
"Man, can they sweep," she said. "There's a huge difference there."
For the sisters who attend Seaquam Secondary in Delta and are separated in age by three years, curling is a chance to spend more time together.
"We're pretty good on the ice together," said Sarah, a Grade 8 student who throws third stones for Jensen. "Maybe it's because she's usually sweeping."
Megan, the Grade 11, lead, agrees: "We're family on and off the ice."
As the girls go back on the ice, Cotter and his lead, Rick Sawatsky, appreciate the energy boost they get from interacting with the girls.
"I really enjoy it," said Cotter. "When I was asked to help, I jumped on it right away. I've been lucky enough to work with a junior program in Vernon and really, this is the grassroots of curling. . It's really great to be able to give back."
Cotter said he works with about 40 to 50 kids age six to 14 in Vernon and he's amazed at how the kids have their fundamentals down at such a young age.
"The kids soak up everything and you see how well they're playing," said Cotter. "The kids are the future of the sport, and I'm happy to be able to help."
Sawatsky couldn't agree more with his skip.
"Retaining these kids, keeping them in the sport, that's what our sport needs," said Sawatsky. "I know from experience that getting more experience is so huge in getting better. There's so many good young players out there and the way to keep up is to be on the ice as much as possible."
For Jackie Daniels, that means getting her daughters to the rink for an average of 10 hours a week.
"It's been seven years of curling for the girls, and it's great they can be out on the ice with the professionals," said Jackie. "Think about it. If you're a hockey player, can you go out and play with Gretzky? The girls get to go and learn from a Kevin Martin, and they really are trying to be helpful to the kids."
Sawatsky agrees, saying he remembers being a kid and curling beside legends such as Ed Lukowich, Pat Ryan and Rick Folk.
"Curlers, we're known as being pretty down to earth so the mentorship thing, that's always been a part of our sport," said Sawatsky. "The reality is 95 to 97 per cent of curlers are doing it for the social or amateur aspects, but for the three to five per cent who want to get to the upper levels, a chance to help them get there is a privilege. . I always love working with the juniors and as long as I have the time to do it, I will."
Martin lamented the fact he couldn't be on the ice with the juniors.
"This is a great new addition to this tournament," said Martin. "Bringing juniors into the fold and giving them an event to shine in, that's something I can really appreciate." email@example.com