Jessica Byers, Liam Little, and Jacob Dobson, three alumni from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, rocked the podium at the Ontario College Athletic Association (OCAA) Curling Championships, coming home with two golds and a silver medal. Byers and Dobson curl for the Humber Hawks Varsity team, with Byers as the second on the women’s team and Dobson as the lead on the men’s team. Little curls lead for the Mohawk Mountaineers.
This five-day college provincial championship, which was held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, began with round robin play from Thursday, Feb. 17 to Sunday, Feb. 20. The gold medal games were held on Feb. 21. At the end of round-robin play, both the Humber women’s and men’s teams secured the No. 1 position and a berth into the gold medal games.
The Humber women’s team only lost one game in round-robin play and the Humber men’s team went undefeated. The Mohawk Mountaineers finished second at the end of round-robin play.
Both gold medal matches were excellent games that came down to the last rock. The Humber Hawks’ women’s team defeated the Niagara Knights 8 – 6, earning Byers a gold medal. The Mohawk Mountaineers defeated the Humber Hawks’ men’s team 5 – 4, with Little securing gold and Dobson earning silver.
To add to their gold medals, both Byers and Little were selected to the first all-star teams, an added honour and recognition at the end of the championship.
It is a huge testament to the calibre of our local curling clubs and the efforts they have put into their youth curling programs, to have three elite athletes not only competing in a provincial championship, but to walk away with three medals. Our local curling clubs and members in both Haliburton and Minden should be immensely proud of their youth curling programs and their investment in the youth of our communities. They have made the sport accessible for all youth and affordable for all families. They removed the barriers of getting children to the club by providing busing. They removed the barriers of cost through fundraising and investing club dollars into their youth programs. They provided healthy snacks and equipment for their young curlers. They volunteered an incredible amount of their time towards the youth. They created an opportunity for youth to build healthy relationships with adults and in a sport that fosters cooperation and community.
The Haliburton and Minden Curling Clubs went above and beyond with their youth curling programs and the impact on these three elite curlers, indelible.
Byers said, “If I think about what curling means to me, I find myself almost at a loss for words. It’s become a part of who I am. The volunteers from the Haliburton and Minden Curling Clubs provided me with an atmosphere to continually grow, improve, set and achieve bigger and bigger goals as an athlete and as a person. When I curl, surrounded by so many inspiring and talented people, I forget about anything else going on in the world, focus on one shot at a time, and support one another. We all come back and love the sport for that reason. I am very grateful to have been introduced to our local youth curling program by my grandparents and all the incredible volunteers, coaches, and teammates I’ve had since I started in 2011. Notably, Bob MacNaull, Hugh Nichol, Terry Lawrence, and Wanda Stephen from the Haliburton Curling Club and Scotty and Jane Boyd from the Minden Curling Club. From my recent competitive experiences, Sherry and Wayne Middaugh, Mike Harris, my Humber College coach Sean Turriff, and of course, my family and friends.”
Little said, “I would for sure like to thank Scotty and Jane Boyd for all the coaching and mentoring as I was growing up learning the sport. I would like to thank the Mohawk athletic program, our coach, Betty Calic, and family and friends for all the support. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Dobson said, “I’d like to thank Russ Duhaime and Hugh Nichol, all the other club coaches who helped me starting off with the game, and everyone who’s supported me through my curling career. I’d also like to stress how important it is to continue to rebuild the youth curling programs now that we’re on the back end of the pandemic. Haliburton and Minden have been able to produce some of the top curlers on every level of the game. This all starts at the grass roots level of getting kids into the game at the elementary level and showing them what is possible.”
Unfortunately for Byers, Little, and Dobson they will not be able to continue their curling journey to compete at nationals this year. Curling Canada cancelled all national curling events for the remainder of this season. For the second year in a row, these varsity athletes have been denied the chance to compete at a national level. Hopefully next year will bring them the opportunity.
And hopefully next year, the Haliburton and Minden Curling Clubs will re-establish their youth curling programs. Hopefully, next year, those considering starting youth programs and volunteering their time will be inspired to do so. Anyone who thinks our youth are not worth the investment, need only read this story. Youth success starts with grassroots programs and a community of adults who believe in investing their time in our youth. Huge thanks to the volunteers and sponsors within our community, and to the curling clubs of Haliburton and Minden for leading the way.
Submitted by Cynthia Mitchell