By Ramisha Farooq
For most competitive athletes, starting young is an integral process to developing their skills to a professional level. Often NHL hockey stars tell stories about learning to skate before they could walk. But for Perry Marshall, his passion for curling began later in life, finding out about the sport at the University of Toronto.
“The old football coach used to be a curler, and he would start a social gathering of curlers and non curlers,” Marshall said. “It’s where I first got exposed to it, going out to it socially and then I got interested competitively after that.”
Two years ago Stuart Leslie was standing with fellow curlers Alex Champ and Nicole Titkai on the padded floor of a local Toronto curling rink, deep in discussion, when they made history.
All three were advanced junior level curlers on the competitive circuit, but had started to notice an absence at the university level. There was no Ryerson curling team, so they decided to create their own.
But with no plan, no proposal and no coach, they knew Ryerson athletics would have a hard time taking three teenagers seriously. And they were right. Athletic director Ivan Joseph had told them that a curling club was possible sometime in the future, but not now. And left it at that.
They had thrown the first rock down the ice, but without proper guidance they just weren’t sure where it would land.
Cue Perry Marshall, who overheard the trio talking in the chilly arena and decided to cut in.
“If you’re thinking of starting a team please let me know. I want to get involved with this,” Marshall said. “I want to make this happen for you guys so we can get Ryerson on the map.”
The group was stunned. They knew about Marshall’s professional work on the competitive circuit, and quickly got into talks with athletics to get him on board.
A towering figure in the Canadian curling world, Marshall has coached teams his entire adult life, from curling to hockey to baseball. Marshall also participates in competitive curling at local, regional and provincial levels in his free time.
For the past 10 years, Marshall has been heading various men’s and women’s teams across Ontario. His teams have reached provincial finals on two occasions.
Now he has set his sights on Ryerson.
Titkai originally met Marshall a few years earlier at a competitive tournament that she played in with his daughter. She used to just know him as the guy that came and watched them every weekend.
“Without Perry we wouldn’t be here today,” said Titkai. “He was just so committed from the beginning. He wanted to have this happen, and it was important to have him with us for that.”
Two years later and they’ve been approved for club status at Ryerson. It is the first curling team at Ryerson since the 1960s and the first women’s team in Ryerson’s history. The team attributes this success to Marshall.
“He said, ‘Congratulations, you guys did it!’ even though it was majority him. He said, ‘You guys made this happen too,’” said Titkai. Marshall then took them out for a congratulatory dinner.
“It was then that we realized the amount of work that Perry had put into our proposal. [Ryerson Athletics] said it was one of the most impressive applications they had ever received,” said Leslie.
The group currently only has club status. This means Marshall is volunteering his time — without pay — to coach the team. The team’s status and success depends on this.
Nick Asquini, the varsity operations coordinator for Ryerson Athletics, echoed the statement Marshall’s players have been saying all along.
“It usually takes a year or two for a coach to understand how university sports work, but Perry knew everything going in. He came in and hit the ground running,” Asquini said.
With files from Devin Jones.