Best Participatory Sport
Best: You know, one of those normal games. Tennis, basketball, something like that.
Second-best: One of these:
Ground Rules: Two teams slide 40-odd-pound lumps of granite down a sheet of ice, using brooms to guide theirs as close to the center of a target as possible. Forget about the wackos who thought they’d be able to get a D.C. curling team into the 2006 Winter Olympics; the real thing involves strategy, lots of upper body strength, and—because this is a Scottish sport—rules about who buys drinks after the match (the winner).
Where to Play: The Potomac Curling Club (curldc.org), located next door to the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, has the only specialized curling facilities in the area, with four ice sheets and a cozy club room. There are games on almost every day of the week, and the club caters to all ages, but your best bet is to start with the friendly, no-pressure Thursday night (6:15 p.m.) or Saturday morning (8:15 a.m.) leagues, both of which offer instruction time for newbies and a game for a $10 donation. Leave your broom and Scottish accent at home—all you need are clean-soled sneakers, and a sense of humor. Ice for your bruised butt is free.
Australian Rules Football
Ground Rules: Get the ball between the goal posts using pretty much any means necessary— running, tackling, kicking, and blocking the ball with any part of your body. A cross between soccer and football, Aussie rules, or “footy,” is a contact sport which requires no sort of protective padding—“just a mouthguard,” says Tony Goodman, president of the Baltimore Washington Eagles (baltimoredceagles.com). In fact, a recent club flier states, “Pads would just cover up the bruises.” Aussie Rules goes a long way in explaining Russell Crowe.
Where to Play: The Eagles welcome new players to training sessions and, for those who don’t fancy turning up to the office black and blue, there’s also a coed non-contact version called Ausball developed by one of the assistant coaches (annual dues for both are $60). For pint-sized beginners, there’s an offshoot club (DC Footy Kids, dcfootykids.blogspot.com), which is free, but don’t worry, Goodman says that “the kids’ version, of course, doesn’t include tackling!”
Ground Rules: Skate faster than your opponents around an ice track. Before cha-cha-ing his way to a win on Dancing with the Stars, Apolo Anton Ohno racked up five Olympic medals for the U.S. in short track and turned the country on to watching athletes in skin-tight body suits racing each other around an ice rink at over 30 mph. And while overtaking a bunch of runners on a field track might seem difficult enough, just give it a go on ice.
Where to Play: Beginners won’t need the racing suit at first. “As the coach [South Korean Olympic medal winner Kim Dong-Sung] always says, ‘form first, speed will follow,’” says Potomac Speedskating Club president CeCe LeBauer (potomacspeedskating.org). The club, which practices at rinks in Wheaton, Laurel, and Arlington throughout the week, offers beginner packages for all ages ($150/3 months), but cover up and bring a helmet unless you want to look like you’ve gone 60 minutes against the Caps defense.
Ground Rules: Using an ax-shaped stick called a hurley, players try to lob a hard leather ball into the goals of the opposing team. Once banned by the Brits, hurling is one of Ireland’s national sports. But according to Justin Golden, secretary of the D.C. Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association, “You don’t have to be Irish to get it in your blood.”
Where to Play: The Gaels (wdcgaels.com) offer introductory hurling and camogie (the women’s version of hurling) leagues in Potomac ($40/year) through their D.C. Irish Sports League, as well as a youth league for the wee ones (helmets are compulsory for all Gaels games; in Ireland, they are optional). For those who are curious but unwilling to take their lives into their hands quite yet, you can catch games broadcast from Ireland from the safety of Flanagans Harp & Fiddle pub in Bethesda.
Ground Rules: OK, I’m Scottish, so give me a minute here…A batter uses a bat to protect a set of wooden wickets from the ball which the bowler throws in order to knock them over. The batter then tries to score runs while the fielders of the opposing team catch the ball and return it to the bowler to get the batter “out.” Actually, you’ll probably never understand the rules. At least it’s easy to recognize players in their “whites”—formal cricket pants, shirts, and shoes.
Where to Play: If you are having difficulty navigating your way around all the googlies, dibbly dobblies, and silly midwickets, you should be able to find someone in one of the 25 active member clubs of the Washington Cricket League (wclinc.com/cricket.php) to help you out. Clubs are scattered throughout the region, so finding a location or day of the week that suits you won’t be a problem.;