BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Bill Stopera left his home last weekend in Briarcliff Manor just hoping to represent his hometown well in the 2012 USA Curling National Championships in Aston, Pa. Stopera returned a gold medalist.
With the first place finish and undefeated run, Team McCormick secured a qualifying spot for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Stopera played in the third position for Team McCormick, consisting of Skip Heath McCormick, second Martin Sather (Hastings-on-Hudson) and lead Dean Gemmell.
The eight-day nationals were a “blur” for Stopera, who secured gold on the team after more than a decade competing in the sport.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Stopera said after returning home this week. “It’s just been absolutely huge and crazy every second I got back. I mean I drove myself to get there and now I have national funding and we’re getting ready to play the best teams in the world. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.”
Stopera practices daily, usually with teammate Sather at Ardsley Curling Club in Irvington. But Stopera got his start in curling when he was 7-years-old, shortly after his parents’ friends introduced them to the sport. He said, as the youngest of nine kids, he had to pick it up quickly.
“I got a really good base playing it when I was younger and it was something I always liked to do,” Stopera said, adding that he didn’t get into curling on a competitive level until moving to Briarcliff 12 years ago. “Young people have trouble with our sport because it’s so strategic. It takes a lot to master the strategy of the game and it takes a tremendous amount of control to be able to do it.”
Despite being a national champion, Stopera has no problem explaining the intricacies of the little-known sport that involves players sliding concrete stones across ice to a target more than 100-feet away.
“Honestly, you mention curling and sometimes you get a little laughter,” Stopera said with a laugh. “But for now, it’s been legitimized for me. Now I’m a national champion and not too many people can say that.”
The response in Briarcliff Manor and throughout Westchester has been more exciting than Stopera said he could have imagined.
“My work threw me a party and my family has been really great and I’ve been getting texts and Facebook messages from people I haven’t talked to in awhile,” he said. “It’s been just crazy.”
Stopera’s wife, Perri, also used the word “crazy” to describe the experience of watching her husband become a gold medalist.
“I’m so excited for him and I just can’t say how glad I am that he got to realize his dream,” Perri Stopera said. “His friends and the people he curls with are wonderful people. It’s sort of a different world.”
The pair agreed that sharing the story with friends in Westchester has been a lot of fun.
“I feel like I know a little bit more about curling than the average person in Briarcliff, but people here have been so great about it,” she said. “To see Bill get this far though has been something else. I never thought he’d get to this point and I can’t believe it.”
Bill Stopera said he doesn’t have much time to let it sink in as he has to prepare to represent his whole country at the 2012 World Men’s Championship from March 31 to April 8 in Basel, Switzerland.
“I’m really glad I don’t have to pay my own way this time,” Stopera said, laughing. Becoming the national champion includes full funding from the US Curling Association. “It’s going to be unreal and I’m just hoping I can represent my country well. It’s the chance of a lifetime and I’m very excited.”