Vernon’s Jim Cotter coaches Johnathan Schwartz during a junior curling practice session Monday at the Vernon Curling Club. Cotter is representing B.C. at the Tim Hortons Brier this week in Saskatoon.

Vernon’s Jim Cotter coaches Johnathan Schwartz during a junior curling practice session Monday at the Vernon Curling Club. Cotter is representing B.C. at the Tim Hortons Brier this week in Saskatoon.

Cotter slides into mentor role

Vernon's Jim Cotter prepares for third appearance at Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon

Jim Cotter couldn’t have had a more fitting send-off from the Vernon Curling Club earlier this week.

Cotter, who left Thursday to represent B.C. at the Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon, found himself surrounded by a flock of up-and-coming curlers he has helped mentor through the club’s Junior and Intercity programs.

Seeing they couldn’t go with him to the Prairies, the kids presented Cotter with a signed travel mug to take with him. After that, they had cake.

For the ultra-humble Cotter, who learned to curl in a junior program while growing up in Kamloops, it is a chance to follow in his parents’ footsteps. His mother, Pat, and father, Rick (now deceased), were heavily involved there with junior curling.

“It’s how I got started and I took a lot from the game as a young kid,” said the 37-year-old father of three.

“I kind of look at it as my turn to give back, and by giving back it’s a whole lotta fun.

“The kids are great and I enjoy working with them. As much as they thank me, I thank them. They’re a real inspiration to me.”

After just two years, the Okanagan Intercity League already boasts 12 teams from Lumby, Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Salmon Arm and Kelowna. The developmental program usually holds spiels two weekends a month, with an intermediate division, sponsored by Capri Insurance, and an advanced group sponsored by DCT Chambers.

“In its second year running, we’re pretty happy with where it’s at,” said Cotter.

Teri Schiman, program co-ordinator of the Vernon Junior League, is impressed with Cotter’s tremendous volunteerism, and by how he interacts with the kids.

“I don’t know how he does it. He has his own three kids…he has to throw a job in there somewhere and all his competitive curling,” said Schiman.

“It’s so important to him. He just gets so much from the kids, and they just worship the guy. They look up to him so much. They’re proud of him when he does well, and when he doesn’t do well, they don’t care.”

Cotter, backed by third Kevin Folk, second Ty Griffith and lead Rick Sawatsky, formerly of Vernon, defended their B.C. crown last month in Parksville. They faced Calgary’s Kevin Koe in their Brier round-robin opener Saturday at the Saskatoon Credit Union Centre.

The B.C. champs face Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy this morning (6:30 a.m. PT) and Saskatchewan’s Scott Manner (11:30 a.m.).

On Monday, Cotter meets Manitoba’s Rob Fowler at 11:30 a.m. and Quebec’s Robert Desjardins at 4:30 p.m.

This will be the third Brier trip for Cotter, Folk and Sawatsky, who teamed up with skip Bob Ursel of Kelowna at the 2008 playdowns. With Ursel injured last year, the trio brought in Ken Maskiewich at third for nationals in London, Ont., where they went 4-7.

“It’s the third time for the three of us, so you kind of know what to expect,” said Cotter. “We learned a lot from last year’s Brier, and the things we did wrong.

“It’s a long week and I think we were fairly tired going into the Brier. We got in late in (London) Ontario…so we kind of ran ourselves dry right from the start. This time we’re getting there a little earlier and we’re getting more prepared.”

This will be the 26-year-old Griffith’s Brier debut, and while Cotter remembers it to be a nervous experience, he says the Kelowna native will take it stride.

“He’s a great kid and a great athlete. He’s pumped for it, just like we all are.”

Added Griffith: “I’m really fortunate that Jim and the guys have brought me on board and I just want to make the most of it. It’s going to be an amazing experience, but we’re not going to settle for just being there. We’ll go there and try to do everything we can to win it.”

Even though he was just eight years old at the time, Folk has fond memories of watching his dad, Rick, represent B.C. at the 1989 Brier in Saskatoon. Now, 23 years later, it will be Kevin throwing the rocks, and Rick serving as coach of the Cotter rink.

On top it all, Saskatoon is home for the Folks, who lived in Saskatchewan’s largest city until moving to Kelowna in 1988.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” Kevin, 31, told Black Press. “Not only is it great to be playing where I watched dad in a Brier, but that’s where I got the bug to curl, and where I really decided to take the next step.

“The fact that I’m going to see family I haven’t seen in a while is great, too. Saskatoon is my No. 1 choice for a Brier.”

With file from Warren Henderson/Kelowna Capital News