The Bernie Sparkes rink was the team to beat as the 55th Annual Haney Masters Bonspiel started on Thursday morning at the Golden Ears Winter Club.
Sparkes, of Chilliwack, is a legend in B.C. curling was he won the Labatt Brier national championship in 1966, 1968 and 1968 when he was with the Ron Northcott Rink.
He had four Alberta championships and another eight B.C. titles, sending him to the Brier a record 12 times, including six as skip. He retired in 1987, going out as the Brier runner-up that year. He has been inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1974 and into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
Now 71, and using the modified stabilizer broom that is allowed in master’s curling, the hall-of-famer is still a force to be reckoned with.
“I can’t believe we drew him first,” groused a member of the Larry Simpson rink of Chilliwack on Thursday morning, after Sparkes went ahead 2-0 early.
There were 24 teams and 96 curlers from throughout the Lower Mainland competing, with the winner to be awarded the age-old Ralph Haney Trophy at a Saturday afternoon banquet. There is a little cash on the line – the champs will win $200 plus an additional $20 for every game they win.
A masters curler must be older than 55, but many were in their 70s and even 80s. Some use a stick, which allows them to deliver the rock standing, as they walk out of the hack and toward the hog line, delivering their shot shuffleboard style. Curlers say the stick is a challenge for draw shots, as it is tougher to get the right weight than when holding the rock in hand, but those wielding sticks can be deadly on takeouts.
Sparkes, who won a master’s event last weekend in Langley, will again have to deal with Bill Ellis’ rink of Chilliwack – last year’s Haney champion. Former Langley Masters champion George Heagy will also be competing.