Unfortunately, the Elementary School Program has been suspended for the 2022/2023 school year. It is our sincere hope that this valuable and worthwhile program can be resurrected for the next school year.
By Matthew Desrosiers
Editor | The Highlander
What started as a fun collaboration between the Wilberforce Curling Club and the community’s elementary school has turned into a unique and exciting sports program.
During the 2013-14 curling season, Grade 7 and 8 students from Wilberforce Elementary School (WES) were invited to the club for four sessions to learn about the game. Dave Watson, a member of the club’s executive, was put in charge of the program.
“They went one day to the curling club and we did what we could with them in [terms of] instruction,” he said. “We ended up having four sessions, just to try and see if it would work.”
The results were positive, and at the end of the four sessions, the student’s teacher recommended they try it again the following year.
“They also recommended that all the other classes have an opportunity to come down,” said Watson. “So, during the summer, we sat down and discussed building it into the winter physical education program at the school, because they have no gymnasium there.”
He then contacted the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Program to see if they would help purchase equipment for the kids. The program is designed to help individual kids and families pay for sporting equipment they otherwise couldn’t afford.
After some discussion, Jumpstart agreed to donate $3,700 for the club to purchase a safety hat for each of the 63 kids in the program.
The last piece of the puzzle was finding certified curling instructors. For that, Watson turned inwards to the club, and their partners at the Ontario Curling Association (OCA).
The association sent two instructors to Wilberforce to teach what was described as a club-coached youth plus course.
“[We offered a] club-coached youth course with additional time added on for both program instruction and strategy,” said Tom Sinclair, learning facilitator with the OCA. “It had more custom stuff to deliver the program that is needed [in Wilberforce], and it was also stretched out. We allowed more time to do what is normally allowed for in the basic course, so it allowed more time for the participants to internalize the information that was being delivered and therefore be a more relaxed and cooperative type of development. We were able to make sure the participants felt comfortable when we left.”
Eight club members took the two-day course on Dec. 6-7, which was custom-designed by the OCA instructors to meet the needs of the new Wilberforce program. The course was co-facilitated by Sinclair and Tom Ward, technical director with the OCA.
“We wanted to make sure we were able to leave them in a position where they had enough time to trial things, question things, put enough things into practice so when they were on the ice with the kids, they will feel confident they were looked after the kids,” Sinclair said.
Also, because the program is for Grades 4-8, the instructors need to be able to teach at the entry level for the younger students, and be able to provide more advanced instruction for the older students who have come through the program.
Sinclair, who is also the president of the Ottawa Curling Club, said the Wilberforce program is pretty unique.
“What makes it really unique is that it is starting from scratch,” he said. “It is an elementary school physical education-related program across Grades 4-8. It’s a comprehensive program for a very defined group of people, whereas the majority of programs are either for an isolated group within a school, or something more related to club curling.”
While it may not be the only program of its kind in the country, Sinclair said it’s perfectly suited to a small community like Wilberforce. But what’s got Sinclair truly excited is the potential for reaching and developing new curlers.
“We’re excited to be at the ground level for a program that has this kind of potential,” he said. “I’m involved in curling development in many ways, and this is grass roots at the absolute best that it can be.”
During the second day of the instructor course, some of the WES students came out for a supervised lesson with the instructors.
“It was very much a cooperative excitement,” Sinclair said. “Chelsea, [one of the WES students], in the beginning was a little apprehensive and a little concerned about change and the advancement of things, but in a very short period of time she was able to get more comfortable in what she’s doing, and that was just in two hours on the ice.”
Since the start of the program, Chelsea has continued to improve in her league play as well as in class.
“I’m absolutely confident that there are going to be more cases like Chelsea’s, and you’re going to get more demand for curlers to get into some of the leagues.”
Sinclair said one of the reasons he expects the program to be successful is the enthusiasm of the newly-trained instructors.
“It takes champions in any area to make a difference in the offering of any kind of program, and specifically curling,” he said. “The number of individuals who were so excited to be able to do this for the school is something that’s really infectious and it’s pretty easy for me to be on that journey with them.”
Now that the program is underway, Sinclair is looking forward to seeing the progress of both the students and his instructors. He said it will be a success if the kids are having fun on the ice.
“I want to see smiling kids sliding out of the hack, and enough energy you have trouble controlling it within the club,” he said. “What you saw with Chelsea from one week to the next, I’m looking to see that on a wider level – the advancement of all the kids, knowing that we have a huge number of kinds that, for them, this is a brand-new activity. I’m looking to see where it can go within the timeframe from where I was for the course to where I go back.”
He’s hoping to return to Wilbeforce for a follow-up, eight to 10 weeks after his first visit. Sinclair said he’ll be looking to see how comfortable the instructors are, because there’s a rapid rise in what’s needed to handle the needs and wants of the kids.
“I know with [these] instructors, they’re going to be all over that to make sure this thing becomes a real success,” he said. “I’m confident this is going to be a tremendous program for Wilbeforce, and I just believe this thing is going to change many kids’ lives.”