At 7:00 pm every Thursday night, a familiar group gets together at the Huntsville Legion for a drink or two and a few hours of shuffleboard. You’d never know from their easy smiles and playful banter, but these are some of the best players Ontario has to offer. Some have been in the game for years, others for decades, and when the stones start sliding it is truly a spectacle to watch.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, shuffleboard is a lot like curling, but without the ice. Players take turns throwing stones, with the longest throw that doesn’t go over the end of the board scoring points. There are takeout shots, draws and guards, and an incredible amount of strategy (not to mention a bit of luck) involved in each round.
“I like the game, I played it years and years ago in the hotels,” says Ken Earl, one of the resident pros who has gone on to play in the provincial championships for the past 16 years. “There is a real sense of camaraderie with everyone here, you pretty much know who’s who.”
Unlike many other sports, shuffleboard is also easy on the wallet, with the group charging just $3 per person to play for the night. The money that is collected goes to the Legion, with a portion set aside as a small prize pool for the top teams that evening.
Despite the wealth of local talent, this is also group that welcomes new players and provides a relaxed, low pressure environment to rookies to come and learn the game. In order to keep things balanced, the group randomly draws for partners every Thursday, effectively mixing up players of all different skill levels.
“Some take it pretty seriously, but most are here for the fun,” says Barb Lloyd, who herself has been playing for the past 18 years, including a long stint as Ken’s partner at the provincial level.
After a period of waning interest over the last decade, the game itself is experiencing a resurgence in Ontario.
“It was really popular, then it died for a few years there,” recalls Ken. “We’d have as many as 20 teams at one point, and then it went down to four or five for a while. Now it’s on its way back.”
Outside of the official competition season, which begins with the Zone Finals on January 30 in Gravenhurst, before the District Championships in March and Provincials in June, the Legion also hosts their own in-house events on a regular basis. These tournaments, such as the Tom and Gerry Invitational put on a few weeks ago, provide a great day of fun while fundraising for a community member in need. This year featured 25 different teams, with the trophy going to – you guessed it – Ken and Barb.
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