On an otherwise silent, bitter cold Tuesday night, the Teton County Fairgrounds were full of life.
Teams gathered to play broomball on the rodeo arena turned ice rink, risking frostbite and ligaments for the parks & rec league’s weekly game.
But this evening of type two fun almost didn’t happen this year due to low participation, according to broomball veteran Sam Fitz.
“I’m delighted that the season is happening,” Fitz said. “There were some question marks rolling into the new year, but right now I’m just fired up that we’re getting out here.”
‘A mix of everything’
Broomball is an eclectic sport made up of two teams of six playing two 20 minute halves on a hockey rink. The rules are a mix of hockey, soccer and a sprinkle of lacrosse, said Gary Duquette, a player on the Dark Elvis team.
Practicing hitting shots into the goal, the broomball veteran said the sport is ironically not played with brooms.
“Broomball is like hockey with sneakers, with a lacrosse stick, pushing a soccer ball into a goal,” Duquette said. “It’s kind of a mix of everything.”
The teams on the ice were kitted like the pre-triumphant Little Giants and Mighty Ducks with a multisport mix of helmets, pads and outerwear. There were mountain biking helmets, ski helmets, classic full face mask hockey helmets — as long as it had a strap. Pads are optional and footwear is strategic.
From what looked like controlled chaos there seemed to be four primary methods of travel: the shuffle and scoot, a bit of a prance, an unwieldy sprint and the body slide across the ice.
Fitz’s tall stature made the sprint an easier feat, he said.
“It’s a goofy sport,” Fitz said. “I mean, you’re running around the ice without skates.”
“You can see the best athletes moving around, and the ball goes in a different direction, and everyone sort of looks like Wiley Coyote running down the road when he sees a roadrunner going the other way, like looking over the shoulder and sliding and unable to stop. It’s really fun.” -broomball veteran Sam Fitz
The history of broomball in Jackson sounds like something out of folklore, which is why the dwindling numbers are such a disappointment to veteran players.
Fitz has been playing for about 18 years and Duquette for about 25 years.
“It used to be like the biggest thing in the winter in Jackson,” Duquette said. “We used to play over at Snow King, and there were two leagues. There was a competitive [league] and rec, and they each had about 20 teams.”
The camaraderie between teammates and even opponents was electric, especially for the old timers. Everyone was there to have fun, but of course winning doesn’t hurt, said Fitz.
“It’s a great social event,” Fitz said. “A lot of the folks on this team have been together for over a decade.”
He said broomball provides a chance to see old friends.
“We’ve all got busy lives, and you’re guaranteed to get a chance to hang out a couple days a week and catch up and run around and get sweaty on a really cold night,” he said.
A new era
While the days of hundreds of broomballers in town are gone, there’s hope for a new era.
Natalie Keesaw said she didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to join a team just hours before the whistle blew.
“I didn’t know this was a sport,” Keesaw said, trying to button up a borrowed hockey helmet. “And I’ve already slipped on the ice fully without even being out there. I don’t have a lot of athletic ability, but I am sure that distraction could be a good technique as well.”
Teton County Parks & Rec is extending the sign-up period for Broomball, and the current teams are hoping more teams will sign up to make the league more competitive.
As for Keesaw, she said she’ll likely be back.
“It seems like a good group of people,” Keesaw said. “A fun thing to do after work, after whatever. Yeah, it’s really low key, and hopefully I’m just perfectly good at this sport.”