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TV’s “The Simpsons” Responsible For Millar’s Return To Curling

Published: April 2, 2012

Ken Millar can thank the popular and long-running animated comedy series “The Simpsons” for his latest return to a sport he loves—curling. Yes, “The Simpsons.” Yes, curling.

“I never relinquished my membership in the U.S. Curling Association even though I was living in Florida,” said Millar, who has been the dean for the College of Health and Human Services at CSULB the past two years. “Just before the opening of the Winter Olympics Games in Vancouver, I got my issue of the U.S. Curling News and there was an article saying the night the Olympics opened, ‘The Simpsons’ television show was going to be dedicated to curling. The article said that to be accurate, the scriptwriters consulted the Hollywood Curling Club. I had just accepted the job here I thought, ‘That’s just great that there’s curling in Southern California.’”

The wheels were put in motion and Millar’s contact with the Hollywood group led him to the curling club in Orange County.

“For about 13 years I didn’t touch the game of curling,” said Millar, who came to CSULB from Florida where he was the dean of the College of Professional Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. “The Hollywood club’s website had a link to the Orange County club, which, of course, worked well for me since I was going to be in Long Beach. I contacted them and said I would be interested in curling in the league and that’s how it started.”

And so, the Canadian-born Millar, who like many Canadians played hockey throughout his youth, was able to get back onto the ice participating in a game he loves—in Southern California of all places.

Soon thereafter, the president of the O.C. club, who was fairly new to curling, asked the experienced Millar if he would be willing to “skip” a group of new players and he agreed.

“In the club there’s probably about four or five of us who have an extensive background in curling and all of us are Canadians,” said Millar, who noted that a skip is the person who calls the strategy of the game and will throw the last two rocks. “Essentially, they are the captain of the curling team.”

So, what exactly is curling? It is a sport in which a player slides a 42-pound, polished granite stone, also called rock, across the ice toward a target area, called a house, in which two sweepers work their brooms to influence its trajectory by altering the state of the ice. The play area, called a curling sheet, is approximately 16 feet wide and 150 feet long.

Each four-player team has eight stones and the goal is to accumulate the highest score for a game. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the center of the target at the conclusion of each end, which is similar to an inning in baseball. The end is completed when each team has thrown all of its stones. A game may consist of eight or 10 ends and generally lasts about two hours.

Millar, who earned his undergraduate degree at Concordia University in Montreal, master’s degree in social work at the University of British Columbia and Ph.D. at the University of Texas-Arlington, initially learned to curl during his first job as a professional social worker in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, back in the 1970s.

“I curled for about a 20-year period (1970-89) before I left Canada to take on the directorship of the School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock,” said Millar, who is now vice president of the Orange County club. “From there I went on to be the dean of Social Work at Louisiana State University. Of course, in both those places the only ice you find is in glasses in mixed drinks or iced tea.”

Later, while working at Aurora University in the Chicago suburbs, Millar got back into curling since there are four curling clubs in the area, and played from 2002-06.

His love for the sport is quite obvious in his knowledge of its history, which just rolls off his tongue.

“The game’s origins are in Scotland, though the game has been embraced primarily by Canadians in that there are more per capita curlers in Canada than there are anywhere else,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons they are perennially the gold medal winners in the Olympics and the World Cup winners on a regular basis as well; both men and women.”

Ken Millar
Ken Millar delivers the rock during practice session at the Orange County Curling Club.

He also pointed out a seemingly odd but popular tradition when curling first began. Opposing curlers would all take a break at the midway point of the game and have a dram of scotch. It was called “broom stacking” because they would stack their brooms before socializing over a drink.

“They don’t stack brooms anymore,” he said, “but it is tradition in curling that the winning team always buys the losing team a drink and it’s still called ‘broom stacking’. It’s really just a good way to socialize.”

Though curling quite obviously lacks the speed and daring of major sports like hockey and basketball, it is every bit their equal and maybe then some when it comes to finesse and strategy.

“The game is a high-strategy game, particularly when you get down to your shots near the end,” said Millar. “Not only are you thinking about what shot you should be making, but you are also thinking about ‘If I do this, what will the other guy do and how can I prevent him from doing that?’ So, there is a fair amount of strategy and that’s a part of the game that I really have a great appreciation for.”

And, like any good curler, he also enjoys the social aspect of the game.

“The game is just a very friendly game,” Millar said. “When you curl you make friends. A weekend of curling is called a bonspiel and it’s just a good time overall.” The word bonspiel comes from the Scottish Gaelic and means “league” (or alliance or household) match (or game).

A great advocate of the sport, Millar is exploring ways to pass the game down to the next generation(s) and noted that, “We have a remarkably resilient group of young people who make curling their Saturday night activity at our club, so I know there is an interest.”

He would also like to begin a junior program at the club, where the age range of current participants is from 20 to those in their 60s.

Closer to home, he has also explored the possibility of making curling a club sport on campus and even has had discussions about making it a credit-bearing class as a kinesiology activity course that he would teach.

“Obviously, if we’re going to grow the sport, we have to do so with young people,” he said, “and I think it can be done here.”

Anyone interested in partcipating in curling can visit the Orange County Curling Club website or contact Millar.