WEST VALLEY CITY — With only three weeks to go until spring, Dale Sandusky is feeling a little let down. We only had a few days of 20-degree temperatures this winter, and only rarely did it dip into the teens.
Ten below zero? Never happened. Cold enough for long johns and wooly earflaps? Not a chance.
“I don’t want sun, I don’t want snow — I want ice, lots of ice,” says Sandusky, looking out the window at another bright and balmy late winter afternoon. “The season’s almost over, and we didn’t even get a cold snap.”
Sandusky, 75, loves frigid weather the way surfers embrace the sun and yacht racers appreciate a good wind. As one of the first curlers in Utah, his idea of nirvana is to head outside on a frosty morning for a few hours of sweeping a heavy stone across a pond coated with eight inches of ice.
Since those days are rare, he has learned to be content with spending every Friday at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, organizing curling tournaments, teaching the basics to anyone age 6 and up and answering inane questions from those of us who have always wondered: “Why is there a sport devoted to ringlets?”
Sandusky grins as he explains why he’s willing to spend his retirement years introducing curling to cold-weather sports wimps like me.
“Curling doesn’t get a lot of respect because everyone thinks it’s a sissy sport and you don’t need much talent to do it,” he says. “But after trying it, people come to me and say, ‘You’ve humbled me.’ It’s about more than getting a stone from one end of the ice to the next. It’s about strategy. Chess on ice, we like to call it.”
Eager to talk about his favorite pastime, Sandusky recently met me for a Free Lunch of chicken noodle soup and salad at the Cracker Barrel in West Valley City during a break in preparing for next month’s curling demonstrations at the Utah Winter Games.
He was 7 years old, growing up in the steel town of McKee, Pa., when he first encountered a group of young men curling on a frozen pond near his favorite sledding hill.
“I was fascinated by it and I wanted to join them and learn all about it,” he says, “but I was too young. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I was allowed to participate.”
Although he moved to Utah in 1972, Sandusky didn’t introduce locals to the sport until Salt Lake City bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
“The Utah Scottish Association was looking for somebody who knew something about curling,” he says, “and I went back and forth wondering, ‘Should I speak up, or shouldn’t I?’ How much time will this take? Will my wife complain?’ Because when I get involved in something, I get involved all the way.”
His deep Scottish roots propelled him to say “yes,” and soon Sandusky was organizing curling exhibitions up and down the Wasatch Front, introducing thousands to the sport that dates back to medieval Scotland, when peasants slid stones called “loafies” across frozen marshes and lochs.
Whenever he spotted anyone in the stands who looked bored — as though they were tuned in to a golf tournament on television or watching paint dry — Sandusky would hop into the stands and explain the sport’s history, outlining possible strategies.
“When you explain how much is really involved with it, people perk up and become fascinated,” he says. “When they actually learn that a ‘skip’ is the team captain and a ‘sweep’ helps the ice to melt and affects where the stone will end up, it all starts to make sense.”
There is no greater reward for a curling Scotsman, he says, “than to share the fun of the sport with somebody else.”
Now if only he could wake up to icicles, frosty trees and a serious cold snap.
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