Curling brings school and community together

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Tammy Lahd provides a student with a few tips at the Milo Community School's annual Fun Spiel.

MILO – On age alone, 14-year-old Ceilidh Kirk and 86-year-old Dave Deitz are at opposite ends of the scale. What brings them together on this occasion is the Milo Curling Rink, and the activities on those two-sheets of ice have formed a real bond between school and community over the years.

Both benefit from that connection.

Ceilidh was among 16 students throwing rocks in Milo Community School’s annual Fun Spiel. Although a knee replacement put a halt to Dave’s 60-plus years of curling, he was down at the rink admiring the play of the youngsters – including his granddaughter, Ava Deitz – in the season-ending bonspiel.

Curling offers Milo students many learning opportunities, and the school’s administrative assistant Tammy Lahd says the benefits of the social aspect of the game shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Whether it’s through the Fun Spiel, junior league play or phys-ed classes held at the curling rink, students have the chance to meet and interact with parent-volunteers. There’s also interaction with older curlers and spectators at club events some of the students are invited to, and weekends spent at the rink while their parents are taking part in bonspiels.

“They see adults in another context (through curling),” says Lahd, who helps coach the students along with the likes of teacher Bernadette Kirk and parent Jana Bartsch. “It’s always funny when a little Grade 1 student sees you in a store and they think you’re only at the school; that you never leave the school.”

First-year Principal Kerry Aiken recalls the pride evident as staff showed off trophies and spoke of the community’s curling connections during her first visit to the school. She had heard of the great community support the school enjoys and certainly hasn’t been disappointed.

“It’s ‘Milo Community School’ and you really feel that when you’re here. I think it just feels more like home when the community and the school partner really well together,” says Aiken, adding that support is evident not only through curling, but in families coming in to read with students, or the community hosting events like the Fall Fair at the school.

Curling in the community dates back to 1949, with construction of the first rink. The new rink was built in 1969 and a number of Milo curlers have gone on to make a name for themselves in broader curling circles.

The history of the Milo Curling Club is spelled out in fading newspaper articles framed on the walls of the rink. The upstairs lounge/viewing area further chronicles the accomplishments of local curlers, and Dave’s vintage sweater hangs on the wall as a lifetime member.

Milo’s junior program began about 35 years ago, spearheaded by teacher John Seaman and then carried forward by Rocky Wilson and others. The Vulcan County Junior Curling League began in 1991, and this year saw Palliser school teams from Vulcan, Brant, Champion and Milo compete once a week from January through early March.

In addition to junior league play and once-a-week practise for that squad and two younger teams of students, the school also worked curling into phys-ed classes. In all, at least half of Milo Community School’s 50 or so students were involved in the sport in some form this year.

The students are learning at the curling rink, says Lahd, even if they’re not aware of it. There’s a certain amount of physics involved in shot making, and there’s also gains to be made through the teamwork and communication skills necessary to succeed in the game.

“It’s also a game of manners and a game of congeniality, and I enjoy that part,” she says. “Jana (Bartsch) and I always make sure the teams shake hands before and after the games, and you say ‘good shot’ and ‘nicely done.’ And part of the curling atmosphere is you always sit with the team you just curled against and talk to them after.”

Ceilidh, who has been curling for about four years, doesn’t ponder for long when asked what she likes most about the sport.

“I just like throwing the rocks down the ice and stuff. It’s fun,” says the Grade 9 student, who plays with her family in the club’s mixed league, and was a member of Milo’s second-place, junior high rink this year.

Curling also fosters volunteerism, says Lahd. Like Chris Bartsch, who was busy preparing the ice for the Fun Spiel, the Milo Curling Club relies heavily on volunteers.

In addition to providing volunteers, the Milo Curling Club also offers the students free use of the ice and all equipment, and even waives entry fees for some school entries in club bonspiels. For the Fun Spiel, lunch was provided by the likes of The Milo Seed Cleaning Association, The Elevator, and PJC Trucking Ltd.

Lahd, who joined the curling club upon moving to Milo in 1989, knows it’s in their own best interest to have the students involved. Dave notes a community down the road didn’t put in ice this past year, a first.

“We want to keep our curling club vital. This is the next generation and if nobody is here, it’s not going to be running,” says Lahd.

Milo Community School, which is a kindergarten to Grade 9 school seeking International Baccalaureate status, is located about 145 kilometers north of Lethbridge.