Around here, it tends to be a game you rally a bunch of friends and neighbors to play on a whim. Yet it can also turn serious, as it will Feb. 19, when the UW-Madison Broomball Tournament unfolds on Lake Mendota off the UW Memorial Union Terrace.
Organized by UW's intramural sports program, the single-elimination tourney features 16 teams of current UW-Madison students. Program manager Becky Dahl also notes the popularity of springtime intramural broomball leagues over the last five years. Beginning in March with playoffs starting in April, this year's competitive and recreational leagues include men's, women's and co-rec divisions open to UW-Madison students, faculty and staff, with space for up to 60 teams. "There should be no problem filling that up," she says.
Where do all those broom-wielding Badgers go after graduation? Minnesota, perhaps: Bloomington and Minneapolis alone boast dozens of men's and women's leagues between them. USA Broomball, the sport's national governing body, maintains a directory of leagues in more than 40 states but includes only one in Wisconsin - the eight-team La Crosse Broomball League. The most prominent recent mention of the sport's Madison devotees came in this month's issue of the noted broomball journal Food & Wine - a fact almost as baffling as the apparent absence of public leagues here. (Curious? Read on.)
At essence, broomball is hockey played with boots, brooms and a ball instead of skates, sticks and a puck. The standard ball is inflatable, about the size of a small soccer ball, but if you're playing for fun, almost anything between a softball and a lumpy old basketball will do.
Most often played on ice, broomball is sometimes adapted to indoor spaces and other settings. The sport's governing body is the International Federation of Broomball Associations, which sponsors the World Broomball Championships every two years and harbors ambitions to promote the sport to Olympic status.
Noting the rise of broomball in Minnesota and on campus here, Sports World proprietor John Williamson says he may stock broomball gear as early as next winter. He knows of no local leagues open to the general public, but says, "I think we're not very far away from something organized."
T.J. Rogness, an adult sports and fitness supervisor for Madison School & Community Recreation, played broomball himself while growing up in Minnesota. MSCR does not yet offer any broomball programs, he says, but "we were actually talking about it this morning." Whether MSCR adds the sport to its offerings will depend on public interest, Rogness cautions. "My uneducated, off-the-top-of-my-head opinion would be that there are many retired hockey players who remember playing broomball" and might find it a good fit after they hang up their skates and stash their sticks.
Meanwhile, Dick's, the gargantuan sporting-goods chain, stocks the Forest Ice line of broomball gear, including Traction Broomball Shoes with grippy vulcanized soles (listing on Dick's website at $70); a blue rubber broomball ($20); and an aluminum octagonal "broom" ($25) with a solid curved head inspired by the old-fashioned practice of dipping a broom in water and shaping its bristles as they freeze to provide greater accuracy in ball-handling and shooting.
Games involve a handful of players per team. One serves as goaltender. Play begins with a face-off over the ball, which is then passed and shot like a hockey puck. Some leagues and tournaments divide games into two or three periods of 15 or 20 minutes each. Sweeping the ball into an opponent's goal scores one point. If the score is tied at the end of regulation, the game goes into overtime, then a shootout.
Additional rules may stipulate how a broom can and can't be used, the roles of designated players like center and wings, and penalties for violations ranging from accosting officials to kicking or throwing the ball, aggressive contact with an opponent, playing with a broken broom, and other breaches of fair play.
But you can also chuck the rulebook and gather friends for a day of low-key broomball action.
L'Etoile chef Tory Miller got hooked on broomball circa 1995, while attending UW-Stevens Point. The sport was big up there, he remembers. Last year, when L'Etoile's principals were batting around ideas for a staff party, broomball was broached. They played on an impromptu Lake Mendota rink behind the home of one of Miller's business partners.
"You don't really have to have a lot of training or athletic ability," he observes. "You don't really need any special equipment." Miller's own preferences lean toward a "run-of-the-mill Ace Hardware broom."
What grabs him about broomball, he adds, is that "nobody's out to hurt anybody." At the low-key end of the sport, the emphasis is on camaraderie over competition - a point emphasized in Food & Wine's coverage of the L'Etoile match. Miller remembers "a bunch of little kids and a bunch of staff" having fun.