Center County club teaches residents of all ages how to curl

When State College resident Mark Lachendro saw curling make its official debut at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, he was intrigued – and unlike 80 mph downhill skiing or landing of a double loop on figure skates, he could imagine himself participating.

More than two decades later, Lachendro, 54, is founder and president of the Nittany Valley Curling Club, providing Center County residents the opportunity to play the sport regardless of age, gender or experience. The club meets every Sunday at Pegula Ice Arena from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Before founding the club, Lachendro struggled to find an opportunity to learn the sport despite his best efforts. While living in western Pennsylvania, he was on the waiting list for the Pittsburgh Curling Club for almost 10 years.

About five years ago, he and his son finally had the opportunity to travel to Ohio and participate in a Learn-To-Curl, an instructional session that teaches individuals the essential skills and technique of curling. As he slid over the stones and swept the ice, he fell in love with the sport and began to cultivate the idea of ​​one day starting his own club.

“There’s strategy, positioning, competitiveness and thinking on top of the physical game,” Lachendro said. “If you can really think through some of the strategy in the game, it makes a huge difference in your performance.”

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Nittany Valley Curling Club member Ben Hallman demonstrates outdoor curling at Winter Fest Feb. 5 at Blue Spring Park. Photo provided

After moving to State College in 2014, her son Jack Lachendro, a Penn State student at the time, joined the university’s curling club. The former club president came to see them to discuss the need for a club that is open to community members, not just students.

In 2019, with the support of the club at Penn State, the Nittany Valley Curling Club was founded.

From bankers to biologists, the club is made up of people from a variety of professional backgrounds and life experiences. With university students playing alongside retirees, the club is proof that there is no age barrier for learning to curl.

Although there are around 20 members at the moment, Mark Lachendro said he hopes that number will grow – and the interest it is generating due to the Olympics will likely help that happen. He said the one thing he wants people to know is that they can curl regardless of their athleticism or lack of experience.

“There are adaptations that can be made so you don’t have to bend over or slide on the ice, like wheelchair curling and using a pusher,” he said. . “It really is a sport for everyone and once you do it you are going to have fun.”

Although the current goal is to have fun with “ever-improving curling”, he said the goal for 2022 is to compete in more competitions. He hopes that all members of the club will have the opportunity to take part in a curling tournament, known as “bonspiels”.

The club is expected to take part in a bonspiel in Pittsburgh later this month. While Mark Lachendro said he had no expectations of winning at home, he is delighted to be competing at a comparable level and getting to know players from neighboring clubs.

For Jack Lachendro, who was athletically coached by his father throughout his life, curling is an opportunity to continue to bond through sport.

“It’s really fun to be on the ice with him and talk about shots and strategy,” said the 25-year-old. “Even when we watch the Olympics at home, it’s something we can bond with and connect with.”

He said he loves curling because of its physical and mental aspects, referring to the sport as “chess on ice”. He also appreciates that it’s not “too dangerous”, adding that the injury rate is incredibly low compared to other sports.

“It’s something I will probably continue to do for the rest of my life,” said Jack Lachendro.

He has even set himself more ambitious goals personally and in the long term, he says he wants to see how high the ceiling can go, without excluding the possibility of participating one day in the Olympic Games.

He said he listens to Olympic curling games every chance he gets and likes to predict the moves Team USA will make, noting that playing the game changes the way he looks.

“I’m watching to see what strategy they’re doing and even though they’re at a much higher level than I am now, it’s good to see what they’re doing and how I can incorporate that into my own game. “, Jack says Lacendro.

Chris McMullen, vice-president of the club, moved to State College about seven years ago from Canada and immediately began looking for curling opportunities.

Growing up, McMullen watched bonspiels on television and was exposed to the sport through his father, who was an avid curler. When he was in his 40s, a brand new curling facility opened near his home, so he decided to give it a try. Since then he has continued to cultivate his skills as a curler and wants people to know that the sport is more than what it looks like on the surface.

“I think it has a reputation for being kind of an old shuffleboard game on ice, which it’s not – there’s a lot of skill and a lot of strategy,” said McMullen, 62.

His favorite thing about the Nittany Valley Curling Club is the camaraderie – which he calls a “key part of the game.” It was also an opportunity for him to meet people from the region who share a common interest in sport.

McMullen said it was an exciting time to learn the sport, noting that curlers are doing better now thanks to improved equipment and technology. For example, when McMullen’s dad was playing, he would grab an old pair of dress shoes and coat the bottoms with silver paint so that one shoe was slippery and the other wasn’t. Now, there are specialized coatings that actors use to achieve this.

He wants people to know that the biggest limit to their success in sports is their own willingness to try it.

“It’s always good to get out there and try something new and there’s no age barrier, I’ve played with people who are over 80,” McMullen said. “You don’t have to be the fittest individual in the world to play either, it really is the kind of sport that almost anyone can go out and play.”

The club does not meet on Sunday due to the Super Bowl. The next session is scheduled for February 20 at Pegula Ice Arena during their regular timeslot.

To learn more about the Nittany Valley Curling Club and get more information on how to get involved, visit the club’s website. The Facebook page.

Melissa Manno is an intern reporter at the Center Daily Times. She grew up in Bucks County and studied journalism at Penn State.

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