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A bonspiel far more about community than curling
2019-12-07

Newell, Dempsey and Riutta are not names that adorn any of the NOCA banners that hang proudly from the rafters of the Copper Cliff Curling Club. Same holds true for Mackinnon, Seawright and Gilbert.

And yet these folks are every bit as critical a lifeline to the venerable old facility as those who donned the colours of Northern Ontario at national championships, from coast to coast.

Truth be told, they might be even more critical, since they represent the link to the community itself, the mining hub situated just on the outskirts of the former City of Sudbury proper, the collection of houses and homes that furnished the overwhelming majority of the membership of the Club for many a decade.

And it was these folks, and their friends and families, which gathered last Saturday for the 31st annual edition of the Arlene Riutta Memorial Liquor Pigs Bonspiel. "It first started with mom organizing it as a family bonspiel, and it evolved," noted Peter Riutta, the eldest son of the woman who initially launched the event, and who has been honoured at the pre-Christmas tradition, ever since her passing in 2006, at the age of just 72.

"Because we did not have enough family to make a full draw, she asked if I could get my friends together," he continued. "The first few years, we would go back to the house for drinks and a potluck."

These days, it's a complete schedule of activities for those who assemble at the Copper Cliff Club. "We like to have it with three games, four ends each, we have lunch and a dinner, and we have entertainment at night," noted Sean Dempsey, who along with Jessie Newell, more recently, took on much of the administrative duties leading into the bonspiel itself.

"We make sure that everyone is responsible - nobody drives who shouldn't be driving," he added. You see, the core group of individuals who form the suffix of the bonspiel moniker (Liquor Pigs) take every bit as much pride in ensuring that transportation is provided for one and all, as they do in noting that the single day competition traditionally sets the club standard for bar sales over the course of the winter.

And therein lies the attraction, consumption of alcohol aside. "The majority of us here have grown up together, gone to school together, most of us are from Copper Cliff, so this is a nice way to get together," suggested Jessie Newell. "And it helps keep Arlene's memory alive."

"This was about getting together at Christmas time, when people were here from out of town," said Riutta. "It was all about fun." For as much as the woman was a Club mainstay, curling typically twice a week and enjoying a handful of ladies bonspiels every year, there was often a much greater effort exerted towards endeavours that had absolutely nothing to do with the curling taking place in the rink.

"When she would go away for the ladies bonspiels, usually with Sue Thompson, there was always a theme night, often on Saturday night," recalled Riutta. "It was more about the skits and having fun with her than any kind of competitive curling - but she did end up winning some bonspiels, along the way."

It would appear that her mindset has been passed along, from generation to generation.

"It's not about your name being on the trophy, for as much as we all talk a good game," chimed in Newell. "My team has been playing together for about 12 to 15 years, in this tournament only, and none of us are curlers. We did win it about three years ago, but there was no skill involved."

In fact, even the concept of prizes for the winners has been replaced with a greater good. "We started to raise money from the 50/50 draws and stuff, and Jessie came up with the idea that we could donate these monies to a family in need, instead of all of us getting a $5 or $10 prize," said Dempsey.

And as the bonspiel originals start to slow down, and another wave of Copper Cliff residents follow in their footsteps, the history remains. "It's evolved from people that are my age, and now we have a lot of the younger generation, people who never even met my mom," said Riutta. "But there is a history behind it."

"A lot of people don't know who Lord Stanley was, but they still cheer a lot for the Stanley Cup."

While the competitive element is clearly downplayed at the bonspiel, it does seem only fair to provide at least a short shout-out to the 2019 champions, the team of Brent Pyper, Ryan Whissell, Harmony McDonald and Jean-Luc Lacelle.

Over to a setting where it is all about the competition, as Tracy Fleury and her rink of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish prepare for the Boost National Grand Slam of Curling playdown taking place from December 10th to the 15th in Conception Bay South (Newfoundland).

If it seems that we have been writing about Team Fleury a lot this season, it's been for good reason. With an overall Grand Slam record of 9-3 to date, the Manitoba crew will head east occupying the number one world women's ranking in the year-to-date standings.

With a consistency that represents a marked improvement in this, just their second year as a team, the Fleury quartet will have plenty of confidence to draw upon with the provincial championships and a berth at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts just around the corner.

Closer to home, Espanola was the site, last weekend, for another of the NOCA Youth Challenge events, with eight teams taking part representing the likes of Sault Ste Marie, Thessalon, Sudbury and Manitoulin Island. When the dust settled after three games, it was the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club rink skipped by Alexandra Buttery (Clara Dissanayake, Bailee Bouffard, Samantha Digiglio) that would prevail, though every young curler returned home with a bucket of ice cream, courtesy of the sponsorship of the Manitoulin West Sudbury Dairy Producers.

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