By Darren Lum
Minden’s Pauline Plooard points to the ice where more than a third of the women curling are wearing a variety of headgear protection at the Minden Curling Club on a Wednesday morning for women’s league.
Plooard a curler with more than 20 years of experience was the first at the club to wear anything protective for her head close to five years ago. Her decision to wear the headwear that resembles a thicker than average headband after a couple of her friends were forced to leave the sport because of head injuries.
Now the issue has gained greater attention because of a pair of highly publicized head injuries: 2006 Olympian gold-medal curling champion Brad Gushue fell on his face on national television during a major competition; and a 72-year-old Scarborough woman died from her head injuries in October.
Despite the raised awareness there is only a handful of protective headgear users in Haliburton County. That group continues to grow because of heightened concern due to head injury complications such as concussions. So far it’s been more female curlers sporting protective headwear in Minden.
On a Wednesday morning Plooard points to the four curling sheets showing the diversity of styles such as Ice Halos worn by more than a third of the 32 ladies curling. The entire list of options include what she wears sun visors tuques and baseball caps. Each of them have a small styrofoam plastic encased block placed at the back of the hats and is about the size of a deck of cards.
Haliburton’s JoAnne Sharpley Source for Sports owner JoAnne Sharpley offers all of the options including snowboard helmets which have been the choice of a few male curlers because they are multi-use and they look better.
Although there hasn’t been a dramatic shift to wearing head protection Sharpley said there is enough demand for her to continue to sell the products. In the last couple years there have been close to 30 hats sold at her location.
Not only is it a safety concern she said but it will become a sales strategy. She is asking her staff to encourage customers buying new equipment to consider head protection for sports such as curling snowboarding or skiing.
All of the clubs (Minden Curling Club Wilberforce Curling Club and Haliburton Curling Club) encourage safety in their literature workshops for beginner intermediate and advanced and their websites. However none have made it mandatory for their members.
Minden Curling Club’s Dave McKay a session instructor with the club said “With new curlers or curlers who have not curled in several years we always evaluate their ability to balance and walk on the slippery ice surface. If they have poor balance or are timid we recommend that they use a delivery stick and wear grippers at all times” he wrote in an email. “Quite a few of our curling members wear protective headgear and we will provide information on the types of headgear protection that is available.”
The curler with 60 years of experience said he has considered wearing the head protection but has not because wears grippers on both feet while sweeping and believes it would be too hot for him.
He adds new curlers should use grippers at all times which includes sweeping except when delivering rocks.
“Grippers should be replaced when worn although this has more to do with ice cleanliness. Make sure that the grippers fit tightly – most of the serious falls I have witnessed occur when a gripper falls off while sweeping. Never step onto or off the ice with the sliding sole last on the ice. Step around rocks – newer try to step over them” he wrote in an email.
In Wilberforce the club there has made it mandatory for its youngest curlers from Wilberforce Elementary School who were receiving curling instruction.
Although the Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s OPHEA (Ontario Physical Education) guidelines which outline the safety requirements for how students participate in sports and activities do not require head protection for curling the club and the administration of the school thought it was a good idea for the students to wear “safety tuques.”
It was even able to secure protective tuques for every student last year and added 24 more tuques for the Grade 4 students because of $9000 worth of grants from Canadian Tire Jump Start.
This is not just a great program for a students without a gym but has been a boon to the club’s membership and could be the root of an entire generation of curlers where wearing headgear isn’t even given a second thought like it is in other sports such as hockey and activities on the slopes.
The students and Wilberforce Curling Club’s Dave Watson one of eight volunteer coaches affectionately calls them the Beanie Boppers.
All of the coaches have adopted the practice of wearing the tuques with the protective pad at the back of the head.
Everyone interviewed agrees that helmets are a must for contact sports such as hockey and football.
Curling is not hockey but it has its share of risk.
A report released in April last year from the Public Health Agency of Canada revealed of the 90 per cent of injuries in recreational curling resulting from a fall a little more than 30 per cent were head impacts.
Watson said once the pad is damaged that it can be sent back to the company in exchange for another one.
Another program that requires its participants to wear head protection is the Red Wolves Special Olympic curling team.
Its co-ordinator coach and parent Yvette Brauer said all of the members must wear protective head gear as part of a safety concern.
“We opt for the halo as it is widely used and looks cool. A number of our coaches are wearing them as well although not mandatory for them” she said. “Keeping everyone safe from serious injuries is our main focus some of our athletes have balance issues so this is definitely beneficial especially for them.”
President of the Haliburton Curling Club Mary Hillaby said safety is a top priority at her club as evidenced by the information outlined on the club’s homepage as well as taught in their clinics emphasizing the use of grippers and particular actions on and around the ice.
She adds there is greater awareness among her membership because of the injuries even if the Gushue facial injuries would not have been mitigated by protective headgear.
Hillaby wasn’t certain about numbers related to protective headwear users at her club but has noticed there has been an increase compared to a few years ago.
“We’re constantly making everyone aware of it not to the point of scaring them. We just want them to be safe” she said.
When asked if she would wear protective headgear she said “I would wear one … I just haven’t put a pad in the back of my hat.”
As far as the club’s youngest participants in the Youth Curling Club Hillaby has left it up to the parents’ discretion pertaining to headwear and has sent a letter.
She acknowledges some of the reservations related to head protection but is fully aware of the growing selection.
“When people think protective head gear they automatically think helmets but some of the designs are cool. You can have a tuque with protective pad at the back. There’s baseball caps. They’re trying to make it more appealing for people to wear” she said.