Because conditioning is more of a factor in the full-ice version, according to Barnett, it’s ideal when 20 to 24 players show up, allowing for frequent substitutions. Games are self-policed and run for about 75 minutes, with no stoppages.
Jessie Frick, a Brighton social worker, played rugby (and broomball) at Colby College, and both her foot speed and balance stood out during a recent game at Reilly. Frick tied the score at 1-1 after sprinting the length of the ice and receiving a teammate’s pass near the goal mouth, which she hammered over the opposing goalie’s shoulder.
As she caught a breather, Frick commented that broomball “has that rugby feel to it, where you’re going as fast as you can. There’s a little recklessness, and a lot of accidental collisions. I like that.”
Teammate Alex Wayne, 25, of Brighton, said he enjoyed broomball enough, both socially and athletically, to play both versions in two different leagues. Unlike most casual broomballers, Wayne, who works in the film industry, also wears special broomball shoes that come with molded, soft-rubber soles. He’s been playing broomball for about a year and also competes in soccer and Ultimate Frisbee.
“It’s just a fun way to be active, running around on the ice,” he says during an off-ice break. “Everyone is very friendly. There’s just the right amount of competitiveness — you dust yourself off, shake hands, and go right back to it.”
According to Kevin Denesen, a board member affiliated with the Minnesota-based USA Broomball organization, broomball was first played by Canadian streetcar workers in the early 1900s. Lacking hockey equipment, they grabbed frozen brooms and balls and began playing in nearby fields and on frozen ponds.
“It’s fun to watch it grow from college campuses to organized leagues now,” says Denesen. “In the last 15 years, it’s really taken off. There’s a lot of buzz around broomball now. It’s a lifetime, all-inclusive sport, and the number of states outside the Midwest where it’s being played has grown immensely.”
By USA Broomball’s count, approximately 35,000 players compete nationally in organized broomball and another 10,000 in more informal leagues scattered throughout 38 states. The first national championship indoor tournament was held in 1999. This year’s tournament will be held in Oxford, Ohio, in March and is expected to draw at least 30 teams.
Played outdoors as well as indoors, broomball may even qualify for the Winter Olympics someday; the International Federation of Broomball Associations (IFBA), based in Canada, is considering lobbying for its inclusion. Organized broomball, coed and single-sex, is currently played in a dozen countries, including the United States. For most local broomballers, though, it’s not about chasing dreams of Olympic medals. It’s about 60 minutes of thigh-burning fun, followed by a postgame beer or two.
Elinor Mason, who scored a pair of goals in her team’s season-opening 5-2 victory, was all smiles when she walked off the ice. “It might actually be an advantage,” she said, tugging off her knee and elbow pads, “to go to the bar first.”
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at email@example.com.