Wednesday, February 13

Lead: Cindy Simmons

Curling is a family affair

Murray McCormick, The Leader-Post
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts starts Saturday at the Brandt Centre with 11 of the country's provincial champions and Team Canada in Regina pursuing a Canadian women's curling championship.

Regina's Michelle Englot is the Saskatchewan representative. Englot, Darlene Kidd, Roberta Materi and Cindy Simmons have earned the right to be the hometown team in the championship.

Today, The Leader-Post's Murray McCormick begins a four-part series on each member of Englot's team. First up is Simmons.

The closing ceremonies at the 2008 SaskPower Scotties Tournament in North Battleford featured a moment that was significantly poignant.

It happened while Del Jones, the president of Saskatchewan Curling Association, was presenting the members of Michelle Englot's team with the provincial jackets they would wear as Saskatchewan women's curling champions at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Jones presented the jackets to Englot, third Darlene Kidd, second Roberta Materi, lead Cindy Simmons and coach Anita Ford.

The final two presentations were especially emotional because Cindy's father, Gary Ford, was Jones's best friend. Anita is Simmons's mother and Gary's widow. Gary, a four-time Saskatchewan men's curling champion, died April 22, 2004, at the age of 65.

"Without having my dad there to congratulate me . . . but having Del present me with the jacket in his last year as president of the SCA . . . was pretty darned close," said Simmons, 33. "It was a great experience for my mom and I. To have Del right there was special."

The presentation summed up what Simmons is about -- family, friends and curling. Simmons, who is to begin play at the Canadian women's curling championship Saturday at the Brandt Centre, can't remember when curling wasn't part of her life, including her family and friends.

"I played volleyball and basketball in high school but then I was given an ultimatum," said Simmons, who grew up in Grey, attended Sheldon-Williams Collegiate and lives in Moose Jaw where she is a financial planner with RBC. "I had to give up basketball if I wanted to curl because they conflicted. It turned out to be the right decision."

It sure did. In 1990, Kidd and Simmons won the provincial and Canada junior women's curling championships. It would be the first of three provincial titles for Simmons. She won a provincial mixed title in 2004 with Regina's Randy Gilewich, Englot and Pat Simmons. Cindy and Pat, the four-time Saskatchewan men's champion, have been married for six years.

Cindy's accomplishments follow a string of curling successes for the Ford family. Gary was a four-time Saskatchewan men's champion with Avonlea's Bob Pickering from 1968 to 1971. Anita was the coach with Sandra Schmirler's powerhouse team that won three Canadian and world titles and gold medal in women's curling at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Atina Ford, Simmons's sister, was the Schmirler's alternate and skipped the junior women's team in 1990. Anita Ford won senior women's provincial championships in 2004 and 2005 as a third with Regina's Crystal Frisk.

Cindy credits her parents with having an influence on her development as a curler.

"They offered different aspects of the game," said Cindy. "Dad was really into strategy and he was the one talking to us around the kitchen table. My mom has been the silent supporter. She is somebody you can talk to and will give great advice but she will never interfere. That's one reason why she's a great coach. She brings that grounding that every team needs."

Cindy adds that to her current team. She has curled off and on with Englot since moving into the women's ranks. This is the team's first year together in the current formation but each player has history with each other. Those ties create a comfort level that increases the team's chances of success.

"Cindy loves the game and has been involved in it since she was a young whippersnapper," said Englot. "I remember watching her in juniors and thinking what a great personality that she has. She's perfect for the game. She has a lot of experience to feed off."

Simmons has also planned her opportunities to be involved in competitive curling. Cindy and Pat have two children -- Makena (two) and Max (eight months) -- who were both born during the offseason. Planned parenthood is also a part of the Simmons' lifestyle.

"We worked it out so I would be pregnant in the winter," said Simmons, who barely missed a draw while carrying her children. "We're lucky that we don't have any problems getting pregnant. We know our curling season. The prime time to have children was early in the summer so they would be around three months by the time curling season came around. My family is all curlers and it's just something that we all do. It makes sense for us and it has worked out very well for us."

There is also an added bonus. When Cindy misses her father and wishes he was here to see her curling accomplishments, she only needs to look at Max.

"He looks like so much like my dad," Cindy said. "He acts like him, has the same blue eyes and the same mannerisms. He's just like my dad and when I go home, it's like having him there."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008