Skip Krista McCarville and her team out of the Fort Williams Curling Club in Thunder Bay, Ont., have made the difficult decision to decline the invitation to represent Northern Ontario at the upcoming Scotties championship set to be held in the Calgary curling bubble in February.
"It was a very, very difficult decision for me but the right one for me. I'm thinking about my kids and husband and my 26 students and their families," McCarville told CBC Sports.
The Grade 6 teacher and mother of two, alongside her team of Kendra Lilly, Ashley Sippala and Sarah Potts earned the right to represent Northern Ontario at this year's Scotties because they won last year's provincial playdowns by defeating Krysta Burns in the provincial final, 6-5.
When the Northern Ontario Curling Association cancelled all of their provincial playdowns due to the pandemic, that gave the team an automatic invitation to represent Northern Ontario at this year's event.
However, after hours of gut-wrenching discussion over the last number of days, the team finally made the decision they would not attend.
"We were really excited that we got the invite. I mean, when has there ever been a free berth to the Scotties other than Team Canada?" McCarville said.
"Then things started to change. The COVID numbers in Thunder Bay started to change quite drastically."
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At this point there's no clear indication as to who will go in place of McCarville's rink, however, a source close to the situation believes the invitation will now go to last year's runner-up Krysta Burns.
Local restrictions in Thunder Bay include a two-week quarantine if they leave the community — McCarville's School Board also adopted the same rule which would have her out of the classroom and away from her family for upwards of a month if she went to Calgary to play.
"Family first. That's what it boiled down to. We know we're going to have many more years of curling," she said.
"It might not be the right decision for everybody but it's the right decision for us. I would never judge any of the other teams. They just have to do what's right for them."
Perennial Scotties contender
The Thunder Bay skip has made 8 Scotties appearances over the years and is always in the mix when it comes to the playoffs and championship round.
In 2016, McCarville nearly won her first title before losing the title game to Chelsea Carey in Grande Prairie, 8-7.
"Everyone was back and forth on this decision," McCarville said. "No one could make a 100 per cent decision. It's weighed on us. We play for the Scotties. That's our thing."
Unlike many of the other elite teams in Canada, McCarville has made it clear throughout her career that she's only interested in playing the big bonspiels, like the Scotties and Olympic Trials, so that she can focus on being a mom and teacher first.
"I love being a mom and a teacher. That's what guided my decision," she said.
Despite missing the sport due to limited time on the ice this year because of the pandemic, McCarville says she's been reminded in this pause of how much she loves curling.
"I felt like I needed a lull year. It was something I was saying to the girls. I was getting really tired and worn out and I didn't know what my curling future looked like," she said.
"Hopefully next year if things are back to normal, I'll be raring to go."
And it just so happens that the Scotties will be played in her hometown of Thunder Bay next year after it was pushed back a year due to the pandemic.
Calgary curling bubble
Six events are scheduled to take place inside the Calgary curling bubble starting in mid-February and stretching into April — all the games will be played inside the Markin McPhail Arena at Canada Olympic Park.
There are strict restrictions for curlers living in the bubble, including staying solely inside the host hotel and the arena. Athletes are unable to have any family members inside the bubble throughout the entire competition to ensure the safest environment possible.
The Scotties will kick off the curling extravaganza starting Feb. 19, followed by the Brier in early March, then the mixed doubles national championship.
That leads into the men's world championship followed finally by two Slam events. Curlers are being asked to show up at least three days before each competition.
McCarville says she has no concerns about the safety of the Calgary bubble.
"I'm very confident in Curling Canada's plan. I feel like they've adapted a very secure bubble. I don't think I have any issues on the actual bubble. However, I'm flying. I'd have to fly through Toronto," she said.