Coronavirus: Curling Alberta cancels 2021 season, local shop and rink in ‘dismal’ state

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COVID-19: Curling Alberta cancels 2021 season, local rinks and shops in ‘dismal’ state
WATCH ABOVE: Curling Alberta has cancelled the 2021 competitive season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Jackie Wilson reports, it’s another hit to an already "dismal" situation for rinks, players and shops – Jan 27, 2021

Curling Alberta has cancelled the 2021 competitive season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its website.

“In light of last week’s announcement from our provincial government that current public health restrictions will remain in place with no timeline on any meaningful relaxations, we felt that this is the most responsible decision on behalf of our organization and stakeholders,” said Jill Richard, Curling Alberta’s executive director.

It’s another blow to an ailing sports sector, its athletes and rinks.

“The curling industry has been hit incredibly hard. Right from our suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. Our curlers have been hit,” said Curler’s Corner owner, Bernice Merrick.

Merrick’s shop is located inside the Calgary Curling Club.

“It’s really dismal, it’s sad,” she said. “Curling right now is at a 98 per cent standstill.

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“For the month of November, our sales were probably down 85 to 90 per cent. (In) December, our sales were easily down 95 per cent, and January (sales are) basically non-existent at this point.”

Read more: Alberta curlers hoping for COVID-19 training exemption ahead of national championships

Calgary Curling Club general manager Daniel Bubola had to let go of all his employees. He’s maintaining the rink himself, with the help of a country board of director volunteers.

“We’re still incurring a lot of utility costs. We’ve tried to minimize that by keeping the ice as warm as we possibly can, keep the heat as cool as we possibly can,” explained Bubola.

“We were looking at probably operating the season just shy of break-even because we took a big hit in membership, but now we’re issuing a lot of refunds and this will be a significant hit to our financial side.”

Read more: 5 Manitoba teams could get berths for national Scotties

Many rinks across the city have taken out their ice and turned the lights off, but Bubola said he’s kept the place running because, in the summer, 75 per cent of members said they would curl through the pandemic. That’s before restrictions closed indoor sports.

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“Had we known back in November that we would be inactive for two months, we would have removed the ice and… (waited) for a green light to start again. These short increments of extensions are the toughest to manage,” Bubola said.

“If the government knew that indoor sports were going to be off the table for the next 30 days, it’d be nice to know that because we’re getting to the point where we’re running out of season.”

Read more: Lethbridge to host 2022 Tim Hortons Brier curling championship

Skip Jessica Wytrychowski’s competitive season is over. She turns 21 years old soon and this was her last chance to compete in the Under 20 Division. Unless a concession is made by Curling Alberta, she’ll have to move up to the women’s league.

“It’s a big jump going from juniors to women’s curling and competing for the Scotties,” she said.

Wytrychowski would like to see the league extend the age restriction for one more year.

“With the narrowing of this season and not being able to play, it’s now under 19 (years old). You’re losing almost two years to play,” she said.

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