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World champion curler receives nod from Powell River Sports Hall of Fame

Deb Morrissey was part of the 1987 women’s world championship rink

When she was informed of her induction into Powell River Sports Hall of Fame, Deb Morrissey’s first thought was there are so many great athletes from the community who deserve the honour.

“I’m not the kind of person who is comfortable with all the attention,” said Morrissey, who resides in Courtenay. “I’m pretty low key.”

She started curling in grade eight when she was 12. Her parents, Annette and Felix Massullo were curlers, as were her grandparents Augusta and Bert Long. She says her sister Corinne Franklin is also an avid curler.

Morrissey had decided to quit curling because she wanted to play basketball instead. She credits Don Keizer’s persistence in getting her to stay with the sport and the fact that she is “a competitive person by nature.”

Keizer was coaching his daughter Tracy, Jean McPhee and Leah Needham and needed a fourth player in order to compete in zone playdowns. Morrissey played lead for the rink, which won the BC Junior Women’s championship in 1981 and played in nationals.

“It was my second year curling and I was hooked after that,” said Morrissey.

She eventually became a skip, taking her rink to a couple provincial playdowns before moving to Victoria for post-secondary education.

In 1985, her last eligible year for juniors, Morrissey played lead for skip Georgina Hawkes (Wheatcroft). The rink was runner-up at the nationals, losing 3-2 in an extra end.

Morrissey was only 21 and attending university full-time when she played lead on the team that won worlds in 1987.

Fabulous foursome

In the fall of 1986, Hawkes was asked by Pat Sanders, out of Racquet Club of Victoria, to become part of her rink. She agreed as long as Morrissey was invited as well.

“We were the youngsters playing with Pat and Louise Herlinveaux, who were about 10 years older,” said Morrissey. “It was weird but it worked and I had no expectations of what was coming.”

The youngsters introduced their unconventional PARTYASAURUS sweatshirts, a display of their youthful exuberance that was credited to helping the rink gel. They did, however, revert to wearing more conventional curling attire.

The BC foursome travelled to cash spiels in Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick, as well as internationally to Switzerland and West Germany. To maintain their skill level, they played in both women’s and men’s super leagues in Victoria.

After winning district playdowns, the rink beat 1985 world champion Linda Moore in a sudden-death playoff to become BC champions. They then won the Scott Tournament of Hearts held in Lethbridge, Alberta, with a 10-3 record, to earn the Canadian title.

Morrissey’s grandparents and parents were at the nationals.

“That was pretty special,” said Morrissey, adding with a laugh, “my mom said she lost 10 pounds just watching. It can be harder in the stands than on the ice playing.”

The world championship was held in Chicago in March 1987, the first time in its nine-year existence it took place in the United States.

“Americans, for the most part, really had no idea at that time what curling was,” explained Morrissey. “There were maybe 150 people watching the finals at the university campus and they were all family and friends. It was more like a regular bonspiel.”

Unlike today with instant communication via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, messages of support came to the rink via telegrams which Morrissey kept in her scrapbook. Senders included Powell River mayor and council, Ken and Gaye Culos, the Keizer family and Powell River Ladies Curling Club. She also received letters and telephone calls of support. Once again, her parents were in the stands to cheer on the rink.

The foursome went 11-1 in the competition with one loss to Switzerland in the round robin. They defeated Andrea Schoop’s West Germany rink 14-2 in the championship match to clinch a fourth straight title for Canada.

Curlers were basically on their own financially at that time, whether competing provincial, nationally or at worlds.

“You went on your own dime as there was no money or sponsorship like there is now where each curler receives a substantial financial reward for winning Canadians. However, I am lucky to do what I did when I did it.”

Drawing straws

For the Olympic trials in 1988 there was a three-way tie for top spot.

“The way the Olympic rink was determined was by drawing straws. Linda Moore drew the short straw and her rink advanced to the final game. Our Sanders rink lost 3-2 in the semi-finals. Moore went on to represent Canada at the 1988 Calgary Olympics where curling was a demonstration sport. My kids can’t believe that when I tell them. It seems so arcane now. I like the rules today better.”

The Sanders rink was named BC’s Team of the Year in 1988 and was inducted in the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

Morrissey still curls some 35 years later and still loves the game she almost gave up to play basketball. She and nine other inductees will be enshrined into the Powell River Sports Hall of Fame next month.

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