ASHWAUBENON - While curling stones have looked pretty much the same for about 100 years, the curlers sending them down the ice look a bit different.
"There aren't many guys out there that are 'tatted up,'" said curler Chris Plys. "Most of the guys here think I'm like a punk or something, but that's totally fine with me."
Plys is competing at the 2013 USA Curling National Championships this week at the Cornerstone Ice Center in Ashwaubenon. Plys is 25, has several tattoos, both his ears pierced and thousands of Twitter followers . He's also one the country's best young curlers, serving as an alternate and appearing in a game during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"People's perception of curling is kind of, old guys with beer bellies doing their thing; no disrespect to guys who played before," said Plys. "The last 10 years, the game has been progressing to be more of an athletic sport. It's turning into a sport more where people are younger."
Plys isn't alone. Organizers say this is one of the youngest overall fields in championship history, on both the men's and women's sides. This is important for a sport trying to reach new fans and bring in new players.
"(Plys has) that personality that can help grow the game, he attracts different people into the game, it gets the younger people that are 10 and 12 excited about the game," said Phil Drobnick, one of the national team's coaches who has worked with Plys for years. "That's what we need for curling: we want to grow it with a young age."
Plys says the sport has taken him to compete in about 20 countries, though his Olympic trip in 2010 stands out. Making the finals this week will ensure a spot at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and a chance at the 2014 Games.
"You're representing a farmer in Iowa, somebody that lives in the mountains out in Tennessee, just everybody," said Plys. "It's a pretty special thing. Definitely something I'll never forget from the first time, but we'll work as hard as we can to get back there, at least one more time."
The semifinal matches are Friday and finals Saturday at Cornerstone. Click here for updated results.
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