A Backyard Bonspiel, a Westfort Tradition

By Michelle McChristie

(Originally published Feb 1, 2016)

Every year in October, a group of friends, known as the Backyard Sports League, begins work on their communal backyard rink. The boarded ice surface—which measures 54’ x 24’—is used for boot hockey and shinny games, but is best known as the host rink of the annual Drunkinental Cup.

“The Drunkinental Cup was started back in the winter of 2004 by the Harris family, BJ Skinner, and James Allam,” says Filip Luczak who has helped organize for the past six years and is also the unofficial spokesman. Since then, Luczak says the event has more than doubled in size. “In the first year, we had 12 teams of 2 people; our current format and participant size calls for 28 teams of 2 people.”

As the name implies, this event is as much about friends getting together to imbibe, share laughs, and make memories as it is to curl. The event is fully catered with lunch, dinner, and snacks on day one, and breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on day two. And, there is plenty of beer—the crowd of thirsty curlers and spectators consumes 14-17 kegs of beer, plus an assortment of other liquors over the weekend (with each keg equivalent to about 7.5 cases of beer, that amounts to upwards of 3,060 bottles of beer!).

The backyard bonspiel was hosted by the Harris family for three years followed by a hiatus as organizers and participants either left the city or moved to a different neighbourhood. In 2010, Rob Skinner decided to revive the event and host it in his Edward Street backyard. With the help of some friends, including the event’s founders, it has become a highly anticipated tradition held annually during the Family Day weekend. As Luczak points out, it’s also a welcome alternative to the mushiness of Valentine’s Day.

“Each year the tournament kicks off with a past world or national curling champion throwing out the ceremonial first stone after the group of about 100 people belts out “O Canada” to the neighbourhood,” says Luczak. A recent addition to the weekend is the Senior Master’s Cup Challenge—“basically our parents and their friends going at it for one night of drink and backyard curling.” Teams are divided into four pools for round-robin play and the top two teams in each pool advance to the playoffs which are single elimination until the finals. The “D-Cup” (not a brassiere, rather three bubba kegs and a plaque held together with duct tape) is awarded to the winner. “We also hand out the MVD—the Most Valuable Drunk—Award which is a vest with the names of past winners glued on felt, voted by all members of the tournament to the most drunk performer over the weekend.”

As you might guess, most of the participants are non-curlers, but about 10% are serious curlers. “We range in experience from Brier participants to ‘only swept my kitchen,’” says Luczak. The equipment varies with some using real curling brooms and others using kitchen brooms or push brooms. The rocks are an ingenious invention made from bleach bottles, rebar, cement, and coloured duct tape. The finished rocks are impressive, but obviously overshadowed by the rink itself. “Each year we finish painting the ice and behold its greatness—a lot of work and countless hours go into the prep of the yard, rink and especially ice,” says Luczak. With bleachers made out of ice and snow, lighting, sponsorships, and gifts for participants, this event is as pro as a backyard bonspiel can get.

Part of the success of the event is because curling is a game that anyone can play. Plus, by the time the long weekend in February arrives, most people in Thunder Bay are ready to emerge from hibernation for a party. Luczak sums it up best: “The Drunkintenal Cup is so beloved because of the goodwill and party atmosphere—people look forward to that Family Day long weekend as soon as the previous one ends. The other part all people love is the competition…seldom do actual champion calibre curlers win.”