Degree: Bachelor of Recreation Studies (Ray); Bachelor of Recreation Management and Community Development (Skinner)
Graduated: 1998 (Ray); 2008 (Skinner)
Employed as: Executive Director, Manitoba Curling Association (Ray); Events/Media Co-ordinator, Manitoba Curling Association (Skinner)
Given curling’s long held status as one of the most popular sports in the province, you’d think there’d be no shortage of experts or enthusiasts willing to head up its governing body.
That’s why it’s somewhat ironic that Shane Ray and Cole Skinner – who hold two of the top jobs at the Manitoba Curling Association – could both be described as casual curlers, at best.
“I get out once or twice a year and have some fun with it, but for the most part, no, I don’t curl,” says Ray, who’s been executive director of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA) since September 2008.
“That’s the big joke in the curling world – that we have the two most prominent positions in curling in the province, and neither one of us is a heavy-duty, serious curler.”
Which is not to say that Ray and Skinner are complete neophytes when it comes to curling: As mentioned, Ray still manages to get a few games in every year, while Skinner – who serves as MCA’s events and media co-ordinator – used to curl competitively as a kid.
And while they may not be the best skips or sweepers on the ice, both men are more than qualified to handle the business end of MCA’s operations, having graduated from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management with degrees in Recreation Studies (as the program was called in 1998, when Ray finished) and Recreation Management and Community Development.
The training helped prepare them to take the reins of an organization that oversees every facet of curling in Manitoba, from organizing and staging qualifying and championship events, to providing programs and services to athletes, coaches and officials. That’s no small feat, especially when you factor in curling’s massive popularity among Manitobans, or the fact that our province accounts for 30% of all clubs and all competitive curlers in Canada.
“I’ve worked with sport people across the board, and without a doubt, curling people are some of the most passionate,” says Ray, who served as marketing co-ordinator for Bison Sports and Recreation Services from 2002 to 2008, as well as prior positions with Sport Manitoba and the Coaches Association of Manitoba.
“It’s a hugely social game, and that’s one of the things that makes it so popular – the fairplay aspect, the gentlemen’s rules, the fact that you don’t really need an official. Sure, some of the rinks still have a phone where you can call up to the bar and get a beer, but that’s one of the things that makes it unique and enjoyable.”
That social aspect is still a likely draw for many of the MCA’s 50,000-plus members, but as Ray and Skinner both point out, there’s also a physical component to curling that’s grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
Here in Manitoba, athletes rely on off-season training, sport psychology and nutrition, and even video analysis to stay on top of their game, lending increased credibility to a sport that was once unfairly dismissed as a mere hobby by skeptics.
“It’s become an Olympic sport, and as such it’s become way more intensive,” says Ray. “To be at the pinnacle of the sport, you have to devote way more time and attention. You can’t just go out and play your Monday night league game and expect to win at the Briar tomorrow.”
Luckily, Ray and Skinner are used to working with athletes of all skill levels: Both served as intramural supervisors while at the U of M, and both won Supervisor of the Year awards for their efforts. (Shane’s wife, Kyla Ray, is co-ordinator of Intramurals and Clubs for Bison Recreation Services, meaning Skinner, who graduated in 2008, has had the pleasure of having both Rays as his boss.)
But as Skinner points out, even casual curlers (like him and Ray) stand a marginal chance of one day sharing a rink with the pros.
“That’s the cool thing about curling,” says Skinner, who credits the intensity and scope of his FKRM training with helping him nab such a prestigious job straight out of school.
“There’s always that little 0.5% of a chance that one day you could be playing with these guys. There’s no such thing as an open tryout for an NHL team, but in curling, anyone can at least enter to qualify.”
“We’re just as competitive and just as structured as anyone else, but we still have time for the grassroots, the club curler who – every once in a while – will get to share the ice with a world champion,” Skinner continues.
“I think that’s why so many people curl, and why we continue to have such great numbers. Because no matter what your age is, you can still compete.”
For more information on the Manitoba Curling Association, see www.curlmanitoba.org