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Rural Missouri Magazine
Slick Sweepers
Broomball is serious business for sure-footed athletes in capital city

by Bob McEowen

Broomball, a recreational sport played at Jefferson City's Washington Park Ice Arena, is similar to hockey except that participants don't wear skates.

It’s 8 o’clock on a Sunday night at Jefferson City’s Washington Park Ice Arena and a group of parents collects their sons and daughters at the conclusion of figure skating practice. As the children leave the ice and regain their street legs, another group of adults, some as old as the waiting parents, makes its way toward the gleaming surface.

One by one, these “athletes” step onto the ice, their feet shod not with blades but high-top shoes with sticky foam bottoms. In stark contrast to the graceful ease the skaters displayed on the ice, they shuffle as they try to find their balance, careful to avoid a misstep and crash to the surface.

Soon they’re scampering across the ice, whacking at a small ball with brooms. The commotion on the ice may seem comical to the casual observer but these broomball players are not laughing.

“It’s very serious,” Carol Brunnert of Jefferson City says with a sly grin. “It’s physical and it’s fast and it’s cold and you’re wearing tennis shoes and hitting a ball with a broom that’s wrapped in duct tape and you fall once in a while.”

Brunnert is one of about 100 mid-Missouri residents who play co-ed broomball late on Sunday nights, the only time the ice arena is available. The sport, which originated in Canada, is similar to hockey in that one team tries to get an object past the other team’s goalie to score. The similarities pretty much end there.

Players often wear special broomball shoes for increased traction. A Nerf-like ball is struck with a broom that has been wrapped in duct tape.

Besides wearing shoes, the players use a spongy ball instead of a puck. As the name implies, the ball is struck with a broom.

“It’s completely ridiculous,” says Missy Morarity, a former broomball player who supervises ice arena activities for the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department. “People are slipping and sliding and falling on their butt when there’s nobody else around them.”

Silly or not, the game has been popular in the capital city since it was first introduced to the area in the mid-1980s. “It’s been an ongoing thing here for many years. We have a loyal following,” says Morarity, who manages one of the few ice rinks in Missouri outside St. Louis and Kansas City.

While there are formal broomball associations, with tournaments and champions, the game is played informally in mid-Missouri. Two games are held on the ice simultaneously with play running cross-court and only limited physical contact allowed. And while special $80 broomball shoes are common, no Jefferson City players use the high-tech broomball sticks that are seen elsewhere.

“It’s a pretty cheap sport, really,” Morarity says. “Everybody can go out and buy a broom — they’re what, five or six dollars? — and a roll of duct tape and you’re pretty much set.

“It’s just something fun and cheap and easy to get started with if you can get enough people who are crazy enough to go along with you.”

Nine co-ed teams compete in two leagues in Jefferson City's broomball program.

Mark Boyer, marketing manager for Three Rivers Electric Cooperative in Linn, is one of the original broomball fanatics in Jefferson City. Boyer moved to mid-Missouri from Granite City, Ill., where he played a much more aggressive, if not more competitive, brand of broomball.

“It’s a different game there because you play full court and it’s full contact. There’s not a lot of restricted rules there like this league,” Boyer says, adding that his old Illinois league disbanded due to safety concerns. “They allowed full body checking. The ball was hard plastic instead of a Nerf ball. It was a lot different game.

“You got to take what you can get,” he says, apparently happy for the opportunity to play at whatever level.

At 46, Boyer is one of the oldest players in Jefferson City broomball but shows no sign of giving up the game. In fact, when considering a job opening at another co-op a few years ago Boyer investigated how far he would have to travel to play broomball. “That was something I looked into,” he says. “I care about it that much.”

Few spectators attend broomball games. Typically the only people who watch the games are those waiting to compete a later match. Jefferson City's Washington Park Ice Arena is one of the few skating rinks in Missouri outside of St. Louis or Kansas City.

Brunnert, herself a 10-year veteran of the sport, says one of the attractions of broomball is that natural ability seems to fade once you step on the ice.

“The ice is a great equalizer,” she says. “Even the people out here who aren’t very athletic, after they’ve played a couple of times, all of a sudden they’re hustling and they’re moving the ball.”

Boyer, too, says the key to broomball is learning to move on the ice.

“The mistake a lot of people make the first time they come out to play is they think you run. You don’t run,” he says. “You more or less take little baby steps. You have more control that way.

“If you get up a head of steam and they shoot the ball away you just go sliding right on by.”

While learning to move on the ice offers challenges that other sports don’t, for many participants broomball is nothing more than a chance to participate in recreational activities year round.

“I’m a seasonal guy,” says Greg Glover, a Callaway Electric Cooperative member from Tebbetts. “I play softball, basketball, volleyball, a little bit of golf — just about everything.

“During the winter you get lazy so this is something to get out and do every week,” he says. “What else do you do during the winter?”

A player reaches out to steady himself as he slides on the ice surface.

Although Glover first took up broomball because his friends “twisted his arm,” now he’s hooked.

“It started out as a silly game but the way our league is played it’s pretty competitive. It’s a pretty hard-core played game,” he says.

That observation is not lost on Morarity, who often must remind participants of the recreational nature of Jefferson City broomball.

“I have to kid some of the players. They get a little too serious about it,” she says. “I say, ‘Step back and take a look at this. You run around on the ice in tennis shoes whacking at a Nerf ball with a duct-taped broom. What is it that you’re taking so seriously?’”

For more information contact the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department, 427 Monroe St., Jefferson City, MO 65101; phone (573) 634-6482 or e-mail jcparks@jeffcitymo.org.

 


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