Madison Magazine

Broomball: Madison's rough-and-tumble winter sport

With ice, brooms and a small soccer ball, amateur athletes sweep up the competition.

Many people likely will argue that a competitive edge is tough to muster in sports when temperatures hover at or dip below freezing.

But amateur athletes should toss those thoughts out the window on a chilly winter's day. Corral a team together, pick up a broom and trudge out to the ice for a spirited game of broomball.

Broomball originated in Canada in the early 1900s, when the activity was played with corn brooms and a small soccer ball. Some rules and style of play are similar to those of floor hockey or ice hockey.

Six-member coed or men's teams are equipped with brooms and attempt to hit a small rubber ball in 6-foot-wide goals positioned on opposite ends of a makeshift rink. There are three players on offense and a goalie is one of three players on defense.

Brooms have hard, plastic triangular ends, and no ice skates are allowed on the sheet. Retailers sell broomball equipment, including shoes that "create suction cups on the ice. The shoes have real soft bottoms and when you crunch down on the ice, you'll get traction," says Denny Kloepping, who organizes the annual Marshall Lion's Club broomball tournament at Marshall Firemen's Park.

If you've got a bike helmet and shin guards, pack those with your pile of gear. Broomball is a contact sport that's prone to inflicting minor injuries.

Kloepping's 2017 broomball event will be held Jan. 20-21 during the annual Lions Ice Fisheree Festival. Games are played on Maunesha River, about 25 miles northeast of Madison.

In past years, the club has registered a maximum of 12 teams. Kloepping anticipates eight teams will participate in a round-robin event and then compete in a final-four format.

Recreational sports tend to bring out cutthroat competitors and lovable losers from all ability levels. Kloepping says referees sometimes need to pay close attention to action on the ice.

"If you're officiating and not staying on top of things, things can really escalate into fights," he says. "We've had fisticuffs. We've had to stop and take people off the ice."

Dusty Weis, a UW-Madison grad, started a broomball group in 2008. He rounded up a posse of friends and called it the BOMB (Broomball on Monona Bay) Squad and had a ton of fun. They competed on Lake Monona for six years.

Participants who didn't have "official" broomball equipment gathered at Brittingham Park and prepared the playing surface.

"Ours was a very impromptu organization that just sprung up out of a need to get outside and shake off the crazy," Weis says. "We went out onto the ice with some snow shovels and cleared a patch."

The BOMB Squad grew up to 25 regular players at its peak, and mini-tournaments were structured to accommodate the popular weekend activity.

Weis retired from broomball after the 2014 tournament in Marshall and the BOMB Squad is no more.

Now public relations supervisor at Milwaukee City Hall, Weis says the competition was fierce and that he'll never forget his broomball glory days. "Minor concussions and lacerations were par for the course," he says. "My knees will probably never be the same." 

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