Not football, broomball
Over the past three weeks, 960 students comprising 72 teams have devoted their time to a little-known game that has become the most-played co-rec fall sport at the University of Notre Dame.
Intramural and co-rec sports have long been a staple in Notre Dame student life, with offerings ranging from soccer to baseball to the recently added pickleball. So, it may surprise some to find that the most popular sport is one that most students—beyond a handful from Minnesota or Saskatchewan—have never heard of: broomball.
The origins of broomball are as unclear as its recent rise to popularity among the undergraduates of Notre Dame. Some claim that broomball was derived from a violent and frequently fatal 10th century Icelandic sport named Knattleikr, in which entire villages faced off against each other on the frozen plains of this Arctic island. But the modern, less violent version of the sport did not arise until the turn of the 20th century, thus the connection to Knattlekir is tenuous.
Canadian workers in Perdue, Saskatchewan played the first documented game in 1909, whence it spread in the ensuing decade throughout Canada and into the upper United States, especially northern Minnesota. As broomball’s popularity spread, the rules were formalized throughout the first half of the 20th century. The first documented broomball league was founded in Duluth, MN in the early 1960s.
Teams initially played with 10 players on the ice at a time—positions more closely mirroring those of soccer, with a goaltender and three defensemen, midfielders, and forwards each. It took the next two decades of play for the numbers to be trimmed down to the hockey-style positions that are used in most leagues today, including at Notre Dame: a goalie, two defense, and three forwards.
Broomball is played in shoes (not skates), on an ice rink, with a rubber ball instead of a hockey puck. The broom—for which the sport was named—has been replaced with a rubber wedge stuck on the end of a pole, still slightly resembling a kitchen broom. Notre Dame’s co-rec rendition of the sport also requires that at least half of the players on the ice for each team are women. The game is then played in two 10-minute halves.
For many Notre Dame students, this obscure sport has been a highlight of their Notre Dame experience. As senior Daniel Schermerhorn told the Rover, “Without having skates, being on the ice offers hilarious wipeouts and epic goal celebrations. It has truly been one of my favorite memories of my time at Notre Dame.”
Schermerhorn played broomball for the first time in the fall of his junior year, joining a team of Baumer and Welsh Family Hall residents. He is playing again this year and is eagerly awaiting the first round of the playoffs.
Another senior, Bryce VanCaster, expanded upon Danny’s sentiment: “Broomball is incredible because everybody starts at a level playing field—nobody grew up playing broomball competitively in high school or anything like that.” He concluded, “Broomball may be niche, but it is an absolute riot to play.”
Senior Claire Cataldo, who took up the sport for the first time during the fall of this year, added, “Having dabbled in a few other co-rec sports this year including sand volleyball, flag football, and indoor soccer, I’d say broomball has been the most thrilling. … Not much beats the feeling of stepping onto an ice rink in tennis shoes instead of skates and figuring out how to move from point A to B to move the ball down the rink to your teammate.”
Third year law student and fifth year broomball veteran John Hale, continued this sentiment, stating, “There’s nothing quite like rolling into Compton [ice arena] at 11pm with a gaggle of your best friends, squeezing your head into a tiny sweat-filled helmet as you gear up to sprint across the ice for 20 minutes of adrenaline-fueled play.”
Hale, who has played co-rec broomball as an undergraduate and as a law student concluded, “In many ways, broomball is emblematic of my larger experience at Notre Dame. This wonderful sport brings people together across friend groups, majors, and dorms in creating an extremely fun and very healthy outlet for athletic competition.”
The regular season consisted of three games amongst each division of four teams. The top two teams from each division will play a single elimination tournament over the remaining weeks of the season to determine Notre Dame’s broomball champion.
W. Joseph DeReuil is a senior from St. Paul, MN. This Christmas break, he plans to spend every waking moment either in skates or with a broom in his hand. Contact him at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: The Irish Rover
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