Friday, May 03, 2013

The Origins of World Junior Curling

Anyone interested in researching the origins of the World Junior Curling Championships will easily find the records which say that the first event, for junior men, was held in Toronto's East York Curling Club in 1975. The World Curling Federation's 'historical results' pages give the names of the nine competing teams, and the results of all the games, see here.

But a competition like a world junior championship does not 'just happen'. That first event went ahead as a consequence of a number of significant things that took place in the preceding years. I can find nothing online which describes these events, so this post is an attempt to provide some of the information, and expand a little on this summary: "A bonspiel for young curlers at the East York Curling Club was inaugurated in 1968 'to provide curlers under 21 years of age with a highly competitive competition of meaningful stature'. It grew thereafter, as the organisers sought to improve the event each year until it evolved into the Uniroyal World Junior Men's Curling Championship in 1975."

The above is a simple and politically correct statement. Yet it hides a stormy adolescence!

Canadian Bob Picken tells some of the story in chapter 33 of Doug Maxwell's book 'Tales of a Curling Hack', 2006, Whitecap Books, North Vancouver. Bob describes how he was asked by the East York organisers to see if he could get teams from abroad to take part in the competition which had already been running as a local bonspiel for a few years. He was initially 'politely rebuffed' by Robin Welsh, the secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. He went then to Chuck Hay, who got in touch with Norman Smith, the chairman of Glasgow Young Curlers Club. Through Chuck's and Norman's efforts a Scottish team travelled to Canada to compete in 1971. At East York, the team was looked after by the organising committee. The Canadian bonspiel now had the wished for international component!

The photo above shows the Scottish team that took part in the 1971 International Junior Masters: (L-R) David Kelly, Jim Stirling, David Manson and Alfie Cron. They were all members of Glasgow Young Curlers Club and competed under the title of 'University of Glasgow Champions'. Norman Smith accompanied the team.

The programme for the event was a simple folded sheet of A4 paper. The competition took place April 9-11, 1971, and was sponsored by Thorn Press.

The programme comes from David Kelly's own collection of memorabilia, and I am grateful to him for sharing this, and for lending the photos of the team to be included here. (Alfie Cron, one of the great characters of the sport sadly left us far too early. David and Jim are still competing in the senior ranks. If anyone has an update on David Manson please let me know.)

Who were the other competitors? The rear page of the programme (above) shows that the event had a team from West Germany and two from the USA amongst the ten taking part. Where are all these competitors today? And who won this 1971 competition?

The members of the organising committee are also listed.

Here is the Scottish team in action at East York in 1971. Manson is in the head and Kelly and Stirling are the sweepers. It is noted on the back of this photo that it was from the first game the Scots played against the local East York team. The skip and third of that team are listed as Barry Mitchell and Steve Wroblewski, and that could be them watching behind.

The following year there was a playoff at Crossmyloof to see who would go from Scotland. Alfie Cron, Dave Manson, Philip Moore and David Kelly beat Jim Stirling, Ronnie Peat, Kerr Graham and John Halley in a best of three series. Sweden also sent a team that year.

In 1973 Alfie Cron again skipped a Scottish team with Colin Baxter, David Halkerston and David Kelly. Norway and Switzerland became involved.

By 1974 the competition was recognised in the Scottish Curler magazine, which records that the Royal Club was taking an interest in the event. The February 1974 issue had this to say:

"The Royal Club staged a Scottish playdown for the Uniroyal Junior International Championship - in the East York Curling Club, Toronto, from 12th to 14th April. Norman Smith, member of the Royal Club's Scottish Young Curlers Committee, supervised the two-day event in the Scottish Ice Rink, Glasgow, this month. The winners of the five-rink round-robin were Colin Baxter (skip), Robert Kelly, David Halkerston and Gordon Muirhead. They finished ahead of rinks from Edinburgh, Aviemore-Inverness, Falkirk and Stranraer."

In the summer of 1973, Bob Picken recalls how he was approached by David Prentice, who had been chair of the organising committee in 1971 as that year's programme shows, to see if he could help persuade the International Curling Federation to endorse the competition as a world junior championship. The competition had already attracted Uniroyal as a sponsor. Bob's description of the the international curling politics of the time makes interesting reading. After much lobbying in 'back rooms', the proposal came in front of the ICF assembly in Bern, Switzerland, in April 1974. The proposal was favourably received by all but the Royal Club representatives. Their view at the time is stated in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1974-75 in the record of the AGM in July, 1974. The President, Adam Cockburn, was in the Chair, and he reported on the activities of the International Curling Federation, as he was one of the reps.

"A proposal to stage a Junior World Championship sponsored by Uniroyal was sanctioned. The Royal Club made representations against the title on the following grounds: (1) that the title 'World' should be limited to the existing World Championships for the Air Canada Silver Broom, and, possibly, to a World Championship for the Ladies, which, I believe, may take place some time in the near future. (2) That the approval of the World Junior title would open the way to future applications for a variety of world titles. We could have under 40's, schoolboys, over 60's and so on, which would tend, we think, to demean the World title itself. We voted against the new title but were outvoted on this occasion and accepted the democratic vote."

There was the matter of participants' age to be decided. This is noted in a further section of Adam Cockburn's report which continues, "After the new title was granted, the Federation's Advisory Committee, on which I myself was represented with Robin Welsh, had a long meeting with Uniroyal representatives and the difficulties of meeting an agreement on age qualifications became apparent."

One can only speculate on what these 'difficulties' were. Of course, the Royal Club's main junior competition was for the TB Murray Trophy which had run from 1959 for young curlers 25 years and under. It began to be called officially the 'Scottish Junior Championship' in the 1970-71 season.
However, the International Curling Federation in 1971 sought views on what the age limits for international junior play should be, and the Royal Club's Scottish Young Curlers' Committee was consulted. In 1972, at the ICF meeting in Garmisch, it was agreed that the standard rule for international junior play should be less than 21 years at July 1, prior to the season in which the competition would be played. This fitted in with the entry requirements for the East York competitions already in force.

Why there should still have been difficulties in 1974 in discussions with the sponsors remains to be explained. Did Uniroyal want an age cutoff different from 21 years? Surely not.

In any case, at the AGM on July 1974, the RCCC Competitions' Committee announced that the Scottish Junior Championship age regulations would be changed 'to conform with the international standard of 21 years for international tournaments to which the winners of our Championship, we hope, will go forward in future years'. The competition for the Murray Trophy was held earlier in the 1974-75 season than it had been in previous years, in December. The first Bank of Scotland Scottish Junior Championship was won by Peter Wilson (skip), Andrew McQuistin (3rd), Neale McQuistin (2nd) and John Sharp (lead). The rink's average age was just 16.

The Wilson team did indeed participate in the first official World Junior Championship in 1975 held at East York. Dave Prentice, mentioned above, headed up the organisation. The history page of the East York club's website (here) records his influence, "A significant highlight of the Club occurred in 1974. Under the direction of Dave Prentice, the East York Curling Club hosted the first Junior World Championships, sponsored by Uniroyal. We are proud to be known as the birthplace of the Junior World Championships. Even today, our most valuable Club member is awarded the Dave Prentice Award; in recognition of the tremendous efforts that Dave took to bring the Juniors to East York."

Note that the impression given here is that the first 'official' World Juniors was held in 1974. This may just be a typo, although Uniroyal did certainly sponsor the Junior Masters in 1973 and 1974, the competition becoming the Uniroyal International Junior Championship.

As already noted, nine countries participated in the first Uniroyal World Junior Curling Championship 1975: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and USA. The trophy was won by Sweden.

Winnipeg's Bob Picken was the distinctive voice of the Uniroyal promotional films of the world junior championships over the years. This was appropriate as he had been made 'honorary chair' of the International Masters in 1972 in recognition of his support for the event. According to this reference, Picken provided radio commentary on thirty-two men's and sixteen women's world curling championships, fifteen world junior championships, thirty-one Canadian men's and twelve Canadian women's championships. He served as the first media relations officer for the World Curling Federation from 1992-94. I first met him when I was a rookie reporter at the Royal Bank Ladies World Championship in Perth in 1980, and I had the privilege to work for him at the World Junior Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1994.

Bob Picken won the World Curling Freytag Award in 1987.

You can listen to Bob Picken's narration on this video covering the history of the first six years, 1975-1980, of the Uniroyal World Junior Championship. Click on the image above, or go to the link here. The recording is originally from the 1981 promotional film, which was then broadcast by BBC Television. It has been rescued from a VHS tape of that broadcast, now in the possession of Norman Brown. The quality is not the best, but it does give a flavour of what international junior curling was all about in its earliest years. I particularly like the trousers worn by the Robb King team in 1975, the brooms - both corn and synthetic, the Paul Gowsell sequences, and of course seeing Norman Brown's triple takeout in 1980, in colour this time!

This post has been all about the junior men. What about the girls? Their first official world junior championship did not take place until 1988 in Chamonix, France. The origins of that competition remain to be discussed another time.

Bob Cowan

Thanks to all who have helped me research this article. Please contact me, or comment below, if you can add more detail to the early history of world junior curling, or if you find any errors. The images from the 1971 International Junior Masters are from David Kelly's archive, and are stamped 'Tosh. Dennis Hall Associates Ltd, 233 Richmond St. W. Toronto 2.'

1 comment:

david said...

A delightful surprise in the program for the "1971 International Junior Masters Curling Championships” is that Jean Lesparance in the Quebec team plays seniors with Graeme Adam. He reminded me of those halcyon days when we met for the first time in almost forty years at Greenacres, and I was embarrassed not to recognise him.  Apparently he remembered the trousers. I dress quite demurely these days. The “home” strip shown in the photos gives no clue to my “away” strip with day-glo paisley pattern flares. Must be something I ate.

The winners were Gananoque. We lost to them at a third extra end, thankfully the only time I have had that disappointment. Bad as that was, in the game against a wonderful hitting side – Steve Thomas’s Avonlea – we were two-one down without playing seven of eight (the schedule was three eight enders per day) and in those days before the free guard zone this was not good. In an end with more clever picks of nearly freezes than I have had to suffer since, we lost a seven.  I still have the scars.

The team photo has me on the left, then Jim Stirling, David Mansen, and skip Alister “Alfie” Cron.  Ubiquitously Alfie, this nick name came about because while at School, Rangers (a football team, apparently) signed a new player Alfie Conn, this was deemed close enough, so  Alfie he became.
In the photo where I am sweeping next to Jim, we are playing the East York Home side. Barry Mitchell the skip is on the left and his vice (strange nomenclature) Steve Wroblewski to his right with a Rink Rat.  We are six up, lying four and Barry draws to 90% hidden. We pick the guard on the way past with the stone we are sweeping and he takes a two – revitalised they catch us in the last end.

Note that the shoes I am wearing are homemade – as they all were in those days in Scotland.  I liked the very hard plastic edging from blaize tennis courts as a sliding surface, I thought the normally used beading for the edge of kitchen shelves too slow.  A sliding sole quick enough to slide the whole length of the rink on ice half of today’s speed was not available. The late Brian Methvin could manage it sometimes with a backswing above his shoulder. I came back from Canada with a pair of curling shoes with the sliding sole already attached! - they were a subject of much interest next season.