"We all want to get Saskatchewan back on the podium, to get us to be one of the top provinces in Canada and I really think, that, with some of steps we’ve seen this year, we’re going in that direction and it’s exciting.”
When it comes to curling, Bruce Korte has always been along for the ride.
In fact, his first recollection of the sport is riding curling rocks in the old Muenster Curling Club back in the 1970s.
No helmets required — not back then.
“You’d sit on it and somebody would push it,” recalls Korte, a longtime accomplished curler who is looking forward to his second season as the province’s CurlSask event manager.
“That would be my earliest memory.”
Those memories, evidently, made a lasting impression.
Korte has gone from playing in so many curling events to planning them. Being used to calling the shots for his own curling team, he’s left calling the shots for Saskatchewan’s curling competitions.
There were more rocks in the house than he could have ever imagined.
“It’s amazing some of the weird things you come across — you curl all your life and you go, ‘I’ve never heard of that before,’ ” he says. “Questions get asked: ‘Is this valid? Or is this valid?’ The (event registration) deadline happens and then you’ve got a short window to get the draw made and plan all that stuff and then it has to get sent out to officials, liaisons, players, on and on. I didn’t expect it to be quite that busy, quite that hectic.”
Korte’s own experience as a longtime curler came into play.
“It sure helped from a curler’s perspective, what curlers are comfortable with, what we liked, what we didn’t like,” he says. “I’ve been around curlers all my life, so you know what people like and what they don’t like.”
The surprising part is the other end of it, he adds: the planning, the volunteers, the clubs.
“We’re pretty myopic as curlers. We just show up at an event. You expect it to be perfect and tend to complain when this isn’t right or this isn’t right. We forget — myself included, I’ve curled like that for all those years — or don’t know the amount of hours put in by the CurlSask staff, the board, the volunteers, the curling clubs. It’s amazing. For me, it’s an eye-opener to see what’s at the other end here and the passion. I’ve been very, very impressed with that.
“It would be good for all curlers to see that. I think we’d lose a lot of criticisms we have, as players, when you see that. “
Korte took on a newly created position last August with the first events beginning in October.
In his words, he “started running and I kept going until basically March when this COVID stuff hit.”
Some 2020 CurlSask events weren’t completed. That includes the provincial mixed, U-18 provincials, club provincials and masters provincials.
CurlSask runs 15 provincial championships. Each one of those has qualifying events and planning.
“Then we have our major SaskTel Tankard and Viterra Scotties,” Korte points out. “Those ones are huge in themselves, and planning for those in arenas and getting those run.”
Each year, CurlSask lists all of its events, then secures host sites.
“Once you have that, it’s getting everything planned and making sure we’ve cleaned up our knots from the last year, competition guides, rulings, how things were handled in the past, those type of things,” he says.
“There’s all that kind of stuff with the planning that has to be done beforehand and, once the event starts, you’re planning all of these events and making sure we have the right officials, liaisons working, and we work with each of the host sites making sure they know what’s going on, the dates, those type of things. That’s kind of the whole encompassing our whole championship schedule.”
THE EVOLUTION OF CURLING
Korte continues to see a lot of changes to curling over the years. It’s getting more structured, fine-tuned and tweaked. Steps are being taken for more consistency when it comes to the ice and rocks at the competitive level.
“Everything’s just getting better,” he says. “Everything is advancing. If you think of how the Brier was, say, 20 years ago, that’s kind of where our major championships are getting now. We’re a bit behind because we’re not quite at that stage for the grandiosity of it, but we’re just a step down now and we’re mimicking all those things they’re trying to do. So it’s getting better and better.
“We’re investing more as CurlSask. We have our own rocks now. We have drapery and things to make the arena better so it looks like a Brier when you’re out there. CurlSask is investing heavily in that. We all want to get Saskatchewan back on the podium, to get us to be one of the top provinces in Canada, and I really think, that, with some of steps we’ve seen this year, we’re going in that direction and it’s exciting.”
GRASSROOTS MEMORIES IN MUENSTER
Saskatoon-based Korte, 52, and his wife, Marje, have been married for more than 30 years. They have raised three daughters, now adults, who all “curl for fun” and not competitively.
“They just like to play. That’s good. I like that. I never push competitive stuff on people. They have to want it,” he says.
Korte began curling in the 1970s in Muenster. He was around 10 years old when the town’s new club was built.
“Right around that time, or shortly after, Rick Folk had won the Brier, so it was exciting for Saskatchewan,” remembers Korte. “That kind of built my dream. The curling rink was about 50 feet away from my house, so I could just go there all the time and I’d dream about playing in the Brier.”
His other curling idol was his dad, Benno, whom he describes as the biggest influence on his curling career.
“Back in those days, there were so many ‘spiels around — Humboldt, Marysburg, Melfort, all over. He’d come home on a weekend and there’d be a trophy sitting on the table and, for a little kid, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ Those things were like the Grey Cup for us. When you were kids, you saw a trophy and it was, like, ‘Wow.’ As a little kid, that just builds the dreams.
“I always followed my dad as a little kid and wanted to see him curl and wanted to see him win, and that kind of built the dream. When I was young, I curled with Dad and we went to bonspiels and curled in things. It was such a big deal, curling with all these adults, and your dad’s skipping and you were playing lead or second. As a young person, you have a role model or somebody you look up to, it really helps build the dream and you try and do those things.”
CURLING GOALS REMAIN AT SENIOR LEVEL
Korte and his team of Darrell McKee, Kory Kohuch and Rory Golanowski from the Saskatoon Nutana Curling Club were to represent Canada at the world senior championships when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
As of mid-May, there was no word on whether the event will be rescheduled.
“That’ll be really tough for us if that’s cancelled, because we’ve all waited our whole life to put on a Team Canada jacket,” admits Korte. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s out of our hands. It’s a holding pattern for everything.”
As a competitive curler, Korte still has goals.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “With the four guys on the team right now, it’s so easy out there. I actually think we’re almost playing better right now than what we did 20 years ago, just because you’re smarter and the things you see. The curling IQ on our team, we see so much stuff that, 20 years ago, our team wouldn’t have seen that, wouldn’t have known, wouldn’t have recognized and built on it.
“It’s kind of fun now because I still think that, if we wanted to play men’s, we would be a very competitive team and have a chance to go somewhere. That isn’t our goal. Our goal is we want to win the world seniors and we want to start, for the next three or four years, dominating and winning like Sherry Anderson’s team has done. That’s a real goal for us, to try and do what they’ve done. It’s been incredible what they’ve been able to accomplish. That’s the goal in seniors. It’s fun when you can still represent your country. “
Korte doesn’t know exactly what the future holds for the sport of curling next season as he and others wait for health order restrictions to be lifted.
Curling clubs are slated to open in phase 4 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan.
“Obviously, we don’t know when this social-distancing stuff will be done and when we start getting players back together, so we’re in a holding pattern like everybody else. Our events, some of the ones that aren’t done yet, are in a holding pattern until we know from higher up what is happening. We’re assuming that things will get back to normal come the start of the season, we’re hoping. We can get back going doing what everybody likes to do. Our provincial sport is curling and we’re hoping we can get that going again. We’ll just have to see,” he says.
“I think, for most (curlers), it’s a step back to appreciate what curling means to them.”