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Come on curling fans — bring the noise!

Team Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue is backed by a legion of supporters during a game earlier this week at the Tim Hortons Brier. While some purists might believe cheering should only happen in a certain way, three-time champion Nolan Thiessen says it’s time for that mindset to change and he is encouraging fans to cheer louder than ever before.
Team Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue is backed by a legion of supporters during a game earlier this week at the Tim Hortons Brier. While some purists might believe cheering should only happen in a certain way, three-time champion Nolan Thiessen says it’s time for that mindset to change and he is encouraging fans to cheer louder than ever before.

We’ve talked about this plenty in the past — the professionalization of curling. I know I’ve written numerous times how the sport has evolved since its inclusion in the Olympic Games as a full medal sport. Our players are truly “athletes” not just “curlers” anymore.

Physical and mental training, team dynamics, eating habits, sleeping habits, rest and recovery; our teams check all the same boxes as your favourite NHL or MLB athletes. I saw a snapchat of Ben Hebert wearing the same “leg recovery sleeves” that I saw Jose Bautista wearing on Instagram last week. Our athletes take this stuff seriously.

What’s absent from the professional sports experience? The arena madhouse.

I’ve been in St. John’s all week and I’ll tell you it’s been an eye-opening experience and one that I hope is a glimpse into the future and not an outlier. Let’s be honest: the fans on the Rock love curling but they have come to the Mile One Centre for one reason — to cheer on the hometown boys.

They have flags, their faces are painted, they’re here to try to give any boost they can to their boys to help them be at the top of the podium Sunday night.

If Brad scores a point, whether it’s with hammer or without, they cheer. There is nothing nefarious, they aren’t cheering because a skip missed his shot; they’re cheering because Brad scored a point. It’s another point closer to winning. They want Brad to win. What is wrong with that?

But here’s the thing — the rest of the teams here? They love it, too! The overwhelming majority of the conversations I’ve had with athletes this week is, “I really wish it was this loud all the time. The energy in the building is amazing.”

The visiting teams are treating it like an NHL team on a road trip would attack a playoff game: go out and get the first goal so the crowd dies down. Being a road team that’s able to weather the early storm and quiet a crowd is a skill and a challenge that every team that isn’t from the Rock is taking on this week.

Welcome to the 21st-century curling!

Talk to any of the curlers who’ve played in the Olympics. It’s a zoo of non-traditional curling fans who have bought their tickets to cheer. It’s hard to hear, so teams need to adjust and they do. NONE of the teams has ever said a bad word about the Olympic experience, or that they yearn for a quieter politer crowd.

There’s a narrative out there that curlers don’t want noise; they want it nice and quiet all the time. Everybody be respectful, sit on your hands and hush up while we curl. But that’s wrong! We don’t want that at all! Where’s the fun in that? As much as the athletes are out here to win a Canadian title and fulfill livelong dreams, isn’t this entertainment, too? Don’t we want the fans to have some fun and want to come back to another curling event in the future?

That narrative needs to change and go away. Curlers here are feeding off the emotion and excitement this week, so keep it coming.

No, they don’t want fans trying to mess with their shot by blasting off an airhorn while they’re in the middle of their slide, trying to throw a draw to the four-foot. But once a shot is done and the result is known … as baseball broadcaster Jack Buck said in a famous 1985 St. Louis Cardinals victory call: “Go CRAZY FOLKS ... GO CRAZY!”

I’d venture to guess that almost everyone watching at home this week has said to themselves, “I REALLY wish I was there instead of on my couch!” It looks that fun, and it IS that fun! Atmospheres like here St. John’s will make sports fans want to put the Tim Hortons Brier on their bucket lists in the years to come.

So, is there such a thing as “too much”? I’ll be honest — when I read the article that spurred this debate, which included a quote from Glenn Howard, I thought his quote was taken WAY out of context by some readers. I didn’t read it that Glenn was saying that anything was wrong with it. He was just saying that it’s different. At no point did he say, “What they are doing is wrong … the fans need to stop doing it.” He actually says in the article that he wanted to feed off the crowd.

From now on we need to make it known that our fans are allowed to show up and they won’t be frowned upon for making noise. St. John’s has shown the rest of the curling fans here in Canada the way to do it. Choose your favourites and come cheer them on. If our athletes want to continue to professionalize our sport, they have to realize that not everyone is here to cheer for them.

Does Connor McDavid show up in Calgary to play the Flames and expect polite applause when he undresses their goalie on a breakaway? Or does he expect booing and vitriol? Our athletes need to have a thick-skin mindset to block out the fans, not the outlook that everyone should be here to cheer great shots only instead of a particular team. Thicker skin is needed, and to be honest, the vast majority of our teams have it. Those who don’t have thick skin won’t be able to win.

So hear me out curling fans: stop thinking that you need to sit on your hands and be quiet when you come to our events. Stop sending in messages that it should be stone quiet for the players to curl and the umpires should control the crowd. It’s not a church service; it’s a sporting event. Be loud and cheer on your favourite team.

It’s your turn next, Regina, when you host the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier. Being a Bomber fan, I know what you Roughrider fans are like. Treat next year’s Tim Hortons Brier like you’re going to Mosaic to watch the ’Riders. Watermelons, face paint, whatever you gotta do to cheer on the boys in green. I know you won’t disappoint.

Nolan Thiessen is a three-time champion at the Tim Hortons Brier, and now an athlete liaison to Curling Canada.

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