Senior men curlers sought for Vernon fun league

John Baia, 93, (centre) watches his stone during action at the Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League at the Vernon Curling Club. Baia, from Lake Country, has been playing in the league for 18 years. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)John Baia, 93, (centre) watches his stone during action at the Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League at the Vernon Curling Club. Baia, from Lake Country, has been playing in the league for 18 years. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Lake Country’s John Baia, 93, has been a regular at the Senior Men’s Non-Competitive Drop-In Curling League Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Vernon Curling Club for 18 years. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)Lake Country’s John Baia, 93, has been a regular at the Senior Men’s Non-Competitive Drop-In Curling League Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Vernon Curling Club for 18 years. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Eddy Yamada delivers a rock to the sweepers during Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League action at the Vernon Curling Club. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)Eddy Yamada delivers a rock to the sweepers during Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League action at the Vernon Curling Club. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Stuart Russell follows his shot during action in the Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League at the Vernon Curling Club. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)Stuart Russell follows his shot during action in the Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League at the Vernon Curling Club. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

John Baia didn’t want to give up curling when he moved to the Okanagan 18 years ago at age 75.

The former draftsman for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit – a commuter from his home in Windsor, Ont. – followed his sons to Lake Country.

Baia, now 93, started curling in his 50s in Windsor.

“I found out there were curling clubs in Vernon, Winfield and Kelowna. I was behind the glass watching in Vernon and a guy named Mike saw me and asked me if I was here to curl,” said Baia.

“I said I’m just checking the place out as I just moved here. I talked to a woman named Jan and she suggested I curl here for the rest of the year. Been here ever since.”

Baia is one of the regulars of the non-competitive Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League. He’s a stick curler now and hits the ice twice a week with his friends Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9:30.

On this particular Tuesday morning, there are enough guys to fill six of the eight sheets of ice at the Vernon Curling Club.

“This is a fun, non-competitive atmosphere,” said one of the drop-in organizers, retired army Lt.-Col. Larry Gilchrist, a spring chicken at 88 compared to Baia.

“It’s just for the love of the game, and the camaraderie is great.”

The beauty of the league is you play different positions for different teams each time out. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an old-school curler still throwing rocks out of the hack, or playing with the ever-increasing-in-popularity stick curling brooms, where you stand and walk up the ice as you deliver the stone.

Participants register for the drop-in, then come in each morning and take a number in front of the club’s drawmaster. That will indicate what sheet you’ll be playing on. Curlers indicate which of the four positions they prefer to play that draw, and teams are put together.

You don’t know who you’ll be playing with and against until the drawmaster calls all participants up after the league news is announced, and begins to draw the teams.

Games are eight ends and usually take a couple of hours to play. And you play the full eight ends.

There’s no shaking hands early in this friendly, non-competitive play.

It’s why Ron Heuman, 75, has been playing in the league since he moved to Vernon in 1996.

“It’s so good because it’s non-competitive, it’s good fun and you’re not belonging to a team,” said Heuman, adorned in a Coffin Dodgers jacket, a tribute to late senior curling legend George Lee, who started a group after competitive league play Fridays that would go out and have a couple of “wets.”

Vernon Curling Club manager Dave (Merk) Merklinger called the group Coffin Dodgers. They even have a table at the curling club with the Coffin Dodgers crest.

“If you want to take a day off, or sleep in, you’re not holding anybody back,” added Heuman. “If you’re here, you’re playing. If you’re not, you don’t.”’

For more information on the Senior Men’s Drop-In Curling League, call 250-542-6713.

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