There are curling legends and then there are legends of curling. Perhaps one of the most iconic of those legends was Clarence ‘Shorty’ Jenkins.
The tributes poured across social media Thursday, following the death of one of the most revered characters of the game.
He was 77.
Shorty, often tabbed as the Wizard of Ice or the King of Swing in respect for an ability to deliver the best for in-turn and out-turn throwers, is fondly remembered.
Gerry Guertz, Internet curling site operator, tweeted “in honour of Shorty Jenkins God laid a nice pebble across southern Ontario today.”
Team Homan, the Canadian women’s curling champions after their victory in Kingston in February, saluted Shorty with “championship curlers know that there is no ice like Shorty’s ice.”
Much of Shorty’s deftness as an ice technician began in the Kingston zone. Shorty was a golf superintendent in Trenton before he convinced CFB Trenton Curling Club he could be an ice maker, too.
Shorty, with his most valuable assistant — wife Joanne — began a run that by the time Alzheimer’s had robbed him of his wonderful ability, saw him make ice for nearly 170 major curling championships.
I remember playing Shorty Jenkins years ago, he was the third for Vince Gallipeau, and recalled what a bundle of nerves the man was out on the ice. Flying out of he hack, contorting his body after a delivery, jumping around behind the house, he was a newness to the curling scene many didn’t know how to take.
It was the same, too, when Shorty began doing curling ice, first on the small club scale and then as the reputation of the man with the pink cowboy hat grew, at provincial and national competitions.
Shorty was nearly 40 when he began ice making. He had to fast-track on experience and did so by carefully charting conditions and particularly ice temperatures. He experimented in ice scraping patterns and the water texture used for pebbling the ice surface.
Shorty would go to be a pioneer of curling as the game headed towards Olympic status. He developed the practice of timing rocks, which soon became the norm for top competitive curlers. He understood the curling stone and the importance of matching rocks so that one player was delivering two rocks that were similar in their speed and curl over the ice surface.
Shorty booked all that information and he passed along his data to the game’s best players, who became enthralled with his modern thinking.
It was on Shorty’s ice at the old Jock Harty Arena across from the old Kingston Curling Club that the 1995 Ontario Tankard was staged.
One of the best fields ever assembled for an Ontario men’s championship staged a wonderful show. Russ Howard, Ed Werenich, Wayne Middaugh, Mike Harris, they all came to Kingston knowing it would be good curling because they knew Shorty was doing the ice. Their belief in the surface Shorty could produce to fit top-level curling, was unshakable.
Shorty, of course, did exactly that and it led to a memorable week of curling, won in the end by Werenich over Howard.
Shorty loved to please the curlers. He wanted to provide them with the best surface. He took criticism to heart.
In Ottawa in 2001, when the Canadian Curling Association had finally yielded to giving the curlers what they wanted — a Shorty Jenkins ice surface for the Brier — he left the championship in the middle of the week in tears.
The CCA, unhappy with the straighter surface, had asked for more curl midway through the competition. Jenkins, the King of Swing, complied with some late-night fine-tuning on the rocks — sanding and filing were the suspected methods — and the swing the next day, with the Howards missing shots on the low side because of the suddenly surprising extra curl, caused an uprising.
Shorty was pegged as the culprit and he fled the scene. I reached him by cellphone halfway home to Trenton. He was distraught as he recounted how the CCA had kicked him out.
The ballyhoo did quiet down eventually, Shorty returned and another successful Brier was completed.
Nobody could stay mad at Shorty for too long. Certainly not the curlers.
He was as beloved by curlers across the country as any one person could have been. The Shorty Jenkins legend came even more to life when Tim Hortons used Jenkins in one of its commercials celebrating true Tim Hortons Canadiana stories.
Shorty came across in that commercial, strolling into the coffee shop in the morning, chatting up the ladies, as a unique person.
That was pretty well right on the button. Shorty Jenkins was one of a kind.