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Graves given million-dollar shot in Lowell curling event


PEPPERELL — More than 700 people submitted their names for a chance at the Lowell Sun’s “Million Dollar Curl” competition at the Tsongas Arena last Friday.

Then the list was narrowed down to 10 finalists, and two Pepperell men were on the short list.

One name from among the finalists would be chosen by Lowell Sun Publisher Mark O’Neill for the big event — a chance to slide a 42-pound curling “stone” across 146 feet of pebbly-surfaced ice.

The target was the 22-inch “button” or innermost ring inside the bigger bulls-eye — or “house” — on the curling ice “sheet.”

Success would earn $1 million. Failure would earn nothing, although each contestant was presented a gift bag and tickets to the upcoming curling match.

Pepperell residents Alan St. Croix, owner of Alan’s Photography, was among the 10 finalists, along with William “Billy” Graves, a heating and cooling contractor who is also the North Middlesex Regional High School’s varsity hockey coach, and the owner of Doc Davis Ice Cream.

The remaining finalists were John Janowicz of Lowell, Dana Caffelle of Chelmsford, Michael Balch of Lowell, Carol Cyr of Pelham, Tami Gouveia of Lowell, Anthony Modeski of Dracut, Thomas Moriarty of Nashua, and David Hartman of Spencer.

Shortly after 1:20 p.m., O’Neill told the gathering crowd that the envelope containing the winning name had been selected and was arriving under tight security. The finalists were escorted down the ice to view the target, then seated on a row of chairs beside the “sheet.”

O’Neill snipped open the envelope and read off the winner’s name.

Billy Graves’ face reddened. He won the chance at the million-dollar shot.

”If I win I’ll give a good portion to the sports program at North Middlesex, probably give something back to the community in hockey,” the 57-year-old Graves said. Putting money away for his kids’ college expenses also came to mind.

Graves received a few words of guidance from his coach, Olympic bronze medalist Scott Baird, who is the fifth man on the US curling team that was scheduled to play against Norway that night.

Then it was time to slide the stone.

Graves pretended to spit on his hands, playing to the growing crowd. “I just don’t want to fall down,” he murmured.

Moving forward without using the rubber starting blocks, and admittedly too creaky to try anything close to the smoothly-posed gliding take-off shown by the professionals, Graves launched his stone from a semi-standing position.

The shot was gentle — too gentle — and lacked the speed needed to cross the far “hog line” in front of the target. The stone drifted right and stopped. Graves good-naturedly shrugged off the poor shot.

”I should have pushed the stone a little harder. It’s really heavy,” he said. No stranger to ice sports, Graves said, “I didn’t realize the ice is like pebbles. I’d never even looked at (a curling sheet) before. I can see why they have this in the Olympics. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”

Watching her husband take part in the event was especially amusing for Grave’s wife, Rose. She entered his name in the event without telling him.

”I was surprised he was selected,” said Rose, as she lowered her camera on the sidelines. “He probably would have done better with a hockey stick.”

”Someone called me the day before April Fool’s Day to say I’d been selected,” Graves said. “I said sure, right, and almost hung up. Just to be able to try is amazing.”

”It seems to be a lot like chess, a lot of strategy,” Graves said of curling. “They used to have a curling rink in Nashua. It’s a good sport for people, particularly older people, unlike hockey,” he said. Local rinks should have open curling nights like they do for skating, he said.