It’s year one for the Pidherny Curling Centre Junior Curling Academy in Red Deer and right out of the hack it’s been a good fit, exposing the game to the young would-be curlers in the community.

“We’ve rounded up four Level Two coaches and we made room for 32 kids and we got 28,” said Pidherny Curling Centre manager Wade Thurber. “It’s a really good start and I think it’s going to grow from here.”

The academy is a logical way to grow the game of curling and at the same time give young players a route to get them to the next skill level, said Thurber. There are volunteers lending a hand with the teaching along with the coaches. It adds up to a great learning environment.

“If we can give the juniors a skill set that not necessarily gets them to a competitive level of curling, at least good enough that they will keep with the game throughout their life because they’ve got the skill set, they can now use,” said Thurber. Simply put, if you can’t slide or throw a rock you are not going to stick with it.

There is the Junior Rockers program which is for those raw beginners to get a foothold. The Academy is a more structured environment for older players who get the benefit of video analysis, using the speed trap (laser beams which time the speed of the rocks as they pass through a target) along with more training aides and available coaching.

Players hit the ice two days a week, Monday and Wednesday with one day dedicated to actual play in a league developed specifically for them and the other day will be dedicated to training.

This type of academy makes sense right now as the number of young curlers taking up the game on a regular basis is encouraging, said Thurber.

“Last year we had 114 kids curl a week here and this year we’re at 152 kids a week here. We’ve got lots of kids,” he said.

Given those numbers the academy is limited to 32 players. It’s a number they settled on and are comfortable with.

“It’s better to teach 32 kids really well than teach 60 kids not so well. If you get too many you just can’t teach them all very well,” said Thurber. “When the coach is teaching them it’s good to only have four of them on the sheet. If you have eight of them on the sheet it’s very difficult. In hockey you have drill where you can keep everybody in motion, doing something. In curling we can’t do that.”

Thurber says most of the kids will be back next year as you can remain a junior until you are 20 years old, but he doesn’t expect many of the current crop to stay that long.

“They can certainly come back year after year to get the training as they get bigger and older. I think our coaches, talking to them, they would like to teach a kid for three or four years. That’s how they can see if they are doing something and see if it’s actually working.”

Thurber says there have been some good junior curlers come through Red Deer, Jocelyn Peterman comes to mind. Many take the extra steps themselves to travel to Calgary to get the coaches and training they need.

Thurber views the academy as sort of a plug to stop parents from having to pack the kids up in the car and head out of town for that training.

“If we can provide better training here and I think what we’re going to find from our coaches if they develop a team that looks very promising, they’re going to work with them even more,” he said which certainly is to the benefit of the athlete.

Getting the hands-on experience is easily the most valuable tool for these kids and Thurber backs that up with his own experience. He says he hated the game because he was forced to watch it on t.v. which took the place of the Saturday morning cartoons. Later in life he got coerced into playing in a bonspiel with some school friends and accepted.

“I remember telling the other players, I said well I’ve never played, never thrown a rock, didn’t even know the rules. I said, I’ll tell you what. I better shoot last so I can see what you guys are doing and I was serious, and they said no you’re not, you’re going first. I played one game and I was hooked and that was the biggest difference between just watching it.”

Thurber says as the program gets stronger, they will evaluate to see what has been working at the end of the season and what needs to be tweaked.

As it stands right now Red Deer’s school of rocks appears to be a solid draw to the button.