In a sense, the 2016 Canadian university curling championships in Kelowna represent a dream come true for Justin Nillson.
For the past several years, the 24-year-old local curler has been trying to drum up interest in the sport on the UBC Okanagan campus.
As the skip of the first ever Heat men’s team at the 2016 CIS nationals, Nillson is seeing the fruits of his labours this week at the Kelowna Curling Club.
“It’s been a bit of a leap, just trying to get funding, to get enough guys committed to train when they’re going to school, and all the traveling that’s involved, so it’s not easy,” said Nillson, whose team qualified for nationals earlier this year at an event in Edmonton.
“But with Kelowna hosting, that was a big boost we needed and we were able to pull it together and put a team out there for the first time.
“The UBCO (athletics department) has been very supportive, and if we can keep the program going out there that would be fantastic.”
The four day-event, which began on Sunday and ends Wednesday afternoon, features eight men’s and eight women’s varsity teams from across the country.
Still relatively new to Canada’s curling landscape, the CIS championships are in their ninth year, with B.C. schools having competed for the last four years.
Similar to the way university curling has benefitted communities other parts of the country, Kelowna Curling Club manager Jock Tyre said an ongoing local varsity program would provide an another important option for young curlers.
“It’s a way to bridge that gap between our junior program, which is growing really quickly, and our adult program,” said Tyre, who also coaches the Heat team. “We’re finding that we’re losing students when they enter college and university, then they get married have kids, that sort of thing.
“So what we’d like to see is them stay in a university curling program, they can carry on in the sport through to adulthood and try and fill that gap with some good competition.”
Curling Canada has been managing and operating the championships of behalf of the CIS since 2008.
Curling Canada’s Danny Lamoureux said bringing the national championships to Kelowna for the first time is simply another step in spreading the
“We have hotbeds like Ontario and the Prairies and places in Atlantic Canada that do very well, but we try and move this around to other locations, non-traditional places to try and jumpstart curling in those spots, and so far it’s worked well,” said Lamoureux, the director of championship services for Curling Canada.
“It’s good to see UBC Okanagan field a men’s team and hopefully the women can do the same in the future.
“We’d like to the (university) move to a club-based program and compete in this every year. That would be our goal.”
From UBCO’s perspective, director of athletics Rob Johnson said for now, there are no long-term plans to support a varsity curling program.
“In the future we hope to be in a position to expand our current offering of athletics,” Johnson said. “Curling is one of a number of sports that’s expressed an interest in getting support and we’re aware of that.”
Nillson’s UBC Okanagan rink also features third Colton Costa, second Luke Cooke and lead Cam Mahler.
The championships wrap up Wednesday at the Kelowna Curling Club, with the men’s and women’s finals both set to start at 2:30 p.m.