Eastern Washington University football legend Michael Roos didn’t toss a coin or throw a pitch to open a week of championship competition at his alma mater in Cheney on Saturday evening.
To officially begin the USA Curling National Championships at EWU’s University Recreation Center, the former Tennessee Titans tackle glided across perfectly pebbled ice to throw the first curling stone toward the house at the other end of the rink. The stone rested within inches of the target, drawing cheers from the crowd of people in attendance.
Roos picked up curling as his new sport of choice and competed for a spot in the championships with other former NFL players on the All Pro Curling Team. But when the team didn’t qualify, he took on ceremonial duties.
That was still occasion enough for Roos’ nephew, sixth-grader Grady Wilson from Napavine, Washington, to cheer on his uncle from the stands while sporting a hat for the All Pro Curling Team.
Wilson, whose parents attended EWU, said he wants to try curling himself one day, as does family friend Brendan Kelly, a sixth-grader at Moran Prairie Elementary whose mother is another EWU grad.
“It’s my first time (watching), and I think it’s really cool,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s mother, Tracy Kelly, said it was exciting to see an event like the curling championships in person at her alma mater rather than on TV.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to bring something unique to Spokane, Cheney and Eastern,” Tracy Kelly said.
Announcers introduced all 18 teams of four curlers while they walked across the rink.
Jenny Bond tracked her son, Chris Bond, of Team Birklid, with her cellphone nearly the entire time, taking photos.
“I hope he wins on his birthday,” Bond said about her son, who turns 29 on Monday.
Watching curling is a change of pace for the Bonds, who coach ice skating in the Tri-Cities. Chris Bond has been curling for about 15 years and learned the sport while living in Rochester, New York.
“It’s great that we get to see it” in person, said Craig Bond, Chris Bond’s father.
Avid curling fans and longtime friends Lois McCain and Danielle Tinsley, both from Spokane, watched the ceremonies from the stands, marking the first time they’ve seen a curling national championship in person.
McCain competed in curling while attending high school in Minot, North Dakota, where it was part of the physical education curriculum. Tinsley started watching curling when it debuted in the Olympics, and now she watches “Curling Night in America” every Friday.
Both Tinsley and McCain attended figure skating events in Spokane and hope that curling can foster a similar connection with the region. The friends are deliberating whether they’ll attend the curling finals next Saturday in Cheney, but are determined to follow the results throughout the week regardless.
“I want (USA Curling) to come back,” said McCain. “And you have to support them to come back.”
Eric Sawyer, president and CEO of the Spokane Sports Commission, spoke about the opportunity to partner with USA Curling and grow the sport in the region.
“We hope (this championship) is going to be the first of many” in the Spokane area, Sawyer said.