Tuesday, February 19

Two Games And A Funeral

Two Games And A Funeral: Best Wishes To Michelle Englot

Pat Hiver | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We need to take a break from the usual fare so I can introduce you to Michelle Englot [shown here with her son, Derek], one of the finest curlers I've ever seen and one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Michelle has played the cold game at a very high level for more than 20 years now, with class and style and humor (win or lose), and this week she's representing her province (Saskatchewan) at a Canadian national championship for the 8th time (six times in women's play, once in mixed and once in juniors).

It was set up to be a special championship for Michelle, played in her home city of Regina, where she is greatly admired -- not only for the way she plays the game (fearless and intensely focused, yet relaxed and funny) but even more for the person she is (bright, friendly, and very kind).

I'm usually neutral in such things, but it's not hard to tell that Michelle is special, and I've been cheering for her for a long time. I've been thrilled to see her play in two national semifinals -- so far -- but a spot in the championship game has eluded her -- so far. The 1989 semifinal, against eventual Canadian and World Champion Heather Houston, was one of the most exquisite and excruciating games I have ever seen. And the curling gods have not been kind to Michelle since her near miss 19 years ago.
Maybe this will be her year; it couldn't happen at a better time or to a better person. She's certainly paid her dues.

The tournament began on Saturday and continues until Sunday; twelve teams are playing a round-robin that will finish on Thursday night and the top four teams will make the playoffs, which begin Friday. After dropping their first two games, Michelle and her team have won three in a row and finished Monday night tied for fourth place; today (Tuesday) they will have two games and a funeral.

Michelle's father, Joe Englot, passed away suddenly on Thursday night or Friday morning, and Michelle is playing with a very heavy heart.

If the tournament were anywhere else but Regina, Michelle told the press, she would have gone home. But she's already home. There's no place to go.

Joe Englot was an enthusiastic curler and a great supporter of Michelle throughout her career. He didn't feel well on Thursday and went to see a doctor; that night he had pains in his chest and told Michelle's mom, "If anything happens to me, tell Michelle to still curl." So she's playing -- at a very high level -- while grieving. What a sight!

Just watching on TV, you can see it in her face and in her body language; even when she makes a great shot (and she makes a lot of great shots) or wins a close game (ditto), she's finding it difficult to smile.

It's completely understandable, of course, and so is the tremendous support she's been getting from her teammates and the hometown fans.

I wish I were there. I wish I could be there. I wish I could drop everything and go to Regina, hang out in the Brandt Centre, pound my hands together for every good shot they make (and every lucky break they get) and scream myself hoarse by the end of the week. It wouldn't be the first time. But it's not gonna happen this year.
Instead -- not enough, not nearly enough, but the best I can manage -- I send my very best wishes to Michelle Englot, her family and her teammates: Cindy Simmons [seen here with Michelle], Roberta Materi and Darlene Kidd.

The funeral mass for Joe Englot will take place on Tuesday evening, at Sacred Heart Church in Montmartre, about an hour southeast of Regina.

The whole town of Montmartre will be there, and my heart will be there too, beginning at 7 p.m.