It was only a few years ago when the word “curling” entered my vocabulary as a sport. I cannot remember ever hearing about it when I was in high school, but somewhere along the line it came into the mainstream.

I’m sure there was considerable interest in the sport before that so maybe with the televised coverage in the Olympics it gained notoriety.

Watching it on television was like listening to a book on tape narrated by an auctioneer — I could pick up a thing or two, but in the end, I was lost.

However, I had an opportunity to play the sport at the Belfast Curling Club’s “Learn to Curl” event Nov. 6 and, while I am not intimate with the game’s finer points, I think I can decribe the plot.

I started by watching a demonstration game between two experienced teams. As the game went on one of the members of the club narrated the plays and explained what was going on.

Simply put, the game is like the Canadian version of Bocce ball. A thrower slides the stone as close as they can to a bull’s-eye on ice and the team with the closest stone wins the point. You can also hit your team’s stone, or your stone, to manipulate its location. Also, the stone can go out of bounds or be put out of play if a mistake is made.

The “curling” part comes in because the stone tends to veer one way or another in a curve as it heads down the ice. That can be a good or bad thing depending on where you want it.

There is a player on the bull’s-eye end of the court who will point where he, or she, wants the stone to go. This player is the strategist, or “skip,” of the team and directs play.

In order to make the stone go faster, and to manipulate the angle of the curl, the sweepers have to act. Their job is to melt the ice in front of the stone to get it to slide where — and how fast — they want.

In short, the following is a typical play. The skip shows the thrower where he wants the stone to go and what the curve should be. The thrower pushes the stone. The stone then slides and the sweepers, on the skip’s command, sweep in front of it to get it where they want. Then it is the next team’s turn. Repeat.

There are, of course, more rules, but we will leave it at that. Also, everyone on the team gets a chance to deliver the stone, which is fun.

I went to the ice area, or arena, excited to learn how to curl. We started with a short crash course, then we played a quick game as we tried all the positions.

We started learning to deliver the stone. It is not a complicated maneuver; it just needs to be done the right way. Basically, you have to push your body off on one foot and slide on the other while holding the handle on top of the stone. Then, at some point, you turn it a little and let go. However, don’t push the stone, the leg push should be enough momentum to get it going.

My problem was I kept pushing too hard. My stones would sail into the distance and end up past the bull’s-eye if no one caught them. I tried correcting it but then I went too slow. It was a conundrum.

Next, I took a hand at sweeping. The trick, I was told, was to push down hard and keep going. It wasn’t until I started doing it that I realized you have to run across the ice to keep up with the stone, watch the skip for directions, and sweep at the same time. That was harder than I thought it might be.

Finally, I took the skip’s place while he delivered. This job was simply to direct where the stone should go. You make signals to the thrower and he tries to follow your strategy.

The skip is the tactician of the group, trying to devise a plan to get the team’s stone as close as it can by hitting others out of the way or maneuvering yours. If you already have a stone close to your goal you can also shield it with the rest of the stones, which is neat.

By the end of our game, my team, had lost both rounds we played. However, that was nothing to fret over. One of the reasons not to be upset by the loss was because, above all, curling is a sportsman’s game. The club emphasizes the polite nature of the sport and its friendly culture.

After our loss, we shook hands with teammates and rivals alike and told them: “Good curling.” Even as I was in the clubroom packing my things, a woman, Jill, from the winning team, said she was to buy me a drink, as was custom for the winning team to do for the losing team after a game.

I thanked her and stayed and chatted with a few people. One of them was Toby Atkins, who has been curling at the club twice a week for seven years. He lives in Hampden, but since the Belfast club is the only one of its kind in Maine, he drives about an hour to get there.

He said he got into the sport after a friend had him come to Belfast to try it. Now, he really enjoys it.

“It’s something that we can do as a family thing. My wife and I both curl. It gets us doing this together,” he said. He added there is no benefit for the game in size or speed and that it’s all strategy.

For example, Atkins said when he first joined, the club held a reunion. An 82-year-old woman, who had not curled, came to the club “and she was sweeping with the best of them and she was right on with all of her shots,” he said. “We actually got beat by an 82-year-old.”

“It’s an interesting crowd, it’s widely variable,” he said. He added that people who curl at the club have professional working careers that include everything from driving trucks to practicing law.

He also echoed the manners of the sport. “It’s a very self-policing sport and the issue is that you are supposed to call you own fouls,” he said. “It’s not a very cutthroat competition and it’s always followed by social activity and communication.”

Even if you go away from the club for a competition, a “bonspiel,” everyone stops for a drink and a meal to socialize after the games. It really is a club not just a sport.

Before I left I got the chance to watch another game as it was narrated for the next group of first-time participants. This time I could kind of see what was going on. It made some sense, as if I had found the slow-motion button for the auctioneer.

Curling has seen increased popularity in Waldo County in recent years and provides recreation for people of all ages and abilities. Several bonspiels are planned for the 2010-2011 winter season with curlers coming from Canada and several areas of New England.

For more information on the Belfast Curling Club, click the link below. Note: the club has filled its registration for this half of the season. The next registration period will be in January.

Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at fritz@villagesoup.com.