SLHS students get curling tips from gold medalist
SARANAC LAKE — As Saranac Lake high schoolers filed into the gym at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, they were silent, many of them still waking up. But by the end of a curling session led by Olympic gold medalist Tyler George, World Curling Federation Media Officer Emily Dwyer and the 2023 FISU World University Games that morning, the group was lively.
Students left the gym shouting about the 400-year-old game from Scotland, energized for the day.
The World University Games will have different sporting events in Lake Placid, Canton, Potsdam and North Creek from Jan. 12 to 22, but all of the curling competitions will be held at the Saranac Lake Civic Center, which is currently under construction in a major overhaul of the facilities to prepare for the games.
Kellie Krake, the curling manager for the games, said the rink will be ready “in time for the games.”
There was no ice in the SLHS gym on Tuesday, but floor curling sets were brought. These stones have rollers to slide across the wood plank gym floor.
Most students had never thrown a curling stone before. They quickly learned terms like “draw,” “button” and “take-out.”
Dwyer explained the rules and George explained the strategy.
“It’s not just about getting the stone in the rings. It’s a chess match,” George said. “You’re positioning rocks like pieces on a board. Or you’re setting things up for later on.”
SLHS students quickly learned, if they just put a rock right in the center of the board, it won’t stay there for long. An opponent was right behind them winding up for a big toss to send their well-placed stone flying.
The last shot is an important one, George said. Where the rocks are at the end of the game is the only thing that matters.
“They don’t count points until all the stones have been thrown,” he said.
Then, students had the chance to engage in some friendly competition. Friendly as it was, the classmates wasted no time in diving into trash talk and psychological games — or just grabbing the arm of the opposing curler right as they released their stone.
George shared a montage of play from the USA team’s 2018 Olympics win with students to show communication his team relied on to get the gold medal.
That moment was “surreal,” George said. Every Olympic athlete who has stood at the top of the medals podium, he said, finds it hard to wrap their heads around the moment. They were so focused on the next match, the next throw, and suddenly, they were at the top of the curling world.
George played for 25 years and retired at the top of his game. But he didn’t leave the sport. He made his passion a living, now working as a sport ambassador for curling.
“I was raised on the game,” George said.
Both of his parents played. He can’t even remember the first time he threw a stone.
“I used to ride around on the stones as a little toddler,” he said.
George picked up the sport at around 10 years old. He said he loves the curling community the most. A curler can walk into any curling club in the world and be met with open arms, he said.
George said he’ll probably be in Saranac Lake during the games. His sister, Courtney Benson, is coaching the women’s curling team for USA and he wants to cheer her on.
“It’s a lot harder watching than it is playing,” he said. “You have no control over it.”
George said if students are interested in the sport they should join a local curling club. There is one in Saranac Lake that will begin meeting on Sunday afternoons again after the World University Games. And, unlike more mainstream sports, curling’s top players are very accessible, he said, and willing to work with young athletes directly.
After the SLHS students had their fun with curling, the next group of high schoolers filed into the gym. They were silent. But they wouldn’t be for long.