The Quest For Curling At Penn State
The Winter Olympics are back in full swing and with that comes the strange affinity with Canada’s national pastime — curling. The sport hits the spotlight once every four years and, especially in the midst of the American men’s team’s first-ever run to Saturday’s gold medal game, many wonder how they can give the game a try.
While there are just a handful of curling clubs in Pennsylvania and none remotely close to Penn State, there was once a time when the sport attempted to grow right in our community.
Four years ago as Pegula Ice Arena opened its doors at Penn State and the Olympics were once again giving the sport a platform in the United States, the Centre County Curling Club attempted to provide an outlet for the game in Happy Valley.
Chris Brida was the driving force behind getting this project off the ground. The Penn State alumnus, who now works in development in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and was previously the manager at Zeno’s Pub, saw the opening of Penn State men’s hockey’s new state of the art facility as an opportunity for curling in the area.
The long-term goal wasn’t simple — requiring ice time, some semblance of fundraising to get equipment, and above all else, other people to join the club.
It was just Brida in the early stages. He’s the one with the connections that got the club its opportunity at Pegula and he also put in the leg-work to get Centre County all the information it needed to have its own curling club.
All of this culminated in the “Learn To Curl” event — an open house for the Happy Valley community to try out the sport and hopefully gain new members. There were volunteers associated with the Centre County Curling Club at the time, but something needed to stick from this event to finally get things started.
Brida wasn’t sure initially how well this event would draw, but its popularity well surpassed his expectations.
“It’s one of those things where you prepare for 500, but we were hoping even for just 50 people to show up,” Brida said. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘Have you seen the line?’ And it was way out the door.”
In the moment, curling at Penn State seemed like something that could be sustainable. Hundreds showed up to its opening event. There’s also always new students to come into the picture who might have an interest as well as the locals who could become attached to the sport.
Yet, as difficult as it was to get a project like this off the ground, it turned out to be more difficult to keep it going.
The curling club had members, enough so that a board with about a dozen members was set up with Brida as president. But life situations change and to keep something like this going, it was going to have to take a full commitment.
“As we were trying to figure all of that out, I had a few things happen in my life that kind of took the legs out from underneath me,” Brida said. “Just as we would gain a little momentum, my father had an accident falling down a massive set of stairs with a snowblower, so he was injured a little bit. That was kind of traumatic for me. My mother-in-law had a heart attack at that time. On top of all that, I just had life. At the time, I had a two-year old and was in a job where I traveled.”
At that time, Brida knew he would have to step away. Other members also had lives to live and struggled to keep the club going. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t meant to be, and the club faded from the radar in 2015.
The goals were there for Brida. What started off years ago with him traveling to Pittsburgh to learn the sport turned to him getting this venture off the ground and throwing the first rock down the sheet of ice at Pegula.
One thing had always stood out to him about the sport — the camaraderie of it. Especially in a place like Happy Valley that blends students with life-long members of the borough, Brida always believed the sport had a reason to thrive here.
“Working downtown and working in the bar scene, there’s a lot of that talk about that relationship between town and gown,” he said. “I thought curling was one of those sports where it’s not necessarily a collegiate sport, where you can have both town and gown come together — play against each other, play on the same teams, kind of break down those walls.”
While the era with that initial group has come to a close, Brida maintained that he’d help bring this venture back to life — saying that their launch proved that there is a hunger for the game in the community.
With the contacts he made within USA Curling and the knowledge he amassed through a year-and-a-half setting up this club, Brida believes that there’s still a chance to get the Centre County Curling Club going again if someone new wanted to lead that charge.
“I’ve always maintained that if anyone reached out or wanted to know where to pick up the pieces, I would be more than willing to have those conversations, meet for coffee. I’ve kept all of my notes about what I did and who I talked to or how we did things and what worked,” Brida said. “I would be more than willing to help someone carry on that torch.”