Monday, February 15, 2016

Broomball swept me off my feet

Sharing a column from Feb. 13, 2016

Broomball swept me off my feet

I ventured north last week to my alma mater, Michigan Technological University, to visit my son – now a student there– and to join friends in celebrating Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival.
The event dates back to the 1930s and continues to grow, organized by the Blue Key National Honor Society. A theme is chosen and student and community groups compete in a month-long or overnight snow statue-building contest. Other activities include skits, crowning a Winter Carnival queen, a beard growing competition, hockey and more.
While there, I tried something I never did while a student at Tech.
I played broomball.
For those unfamiliar with the game, it is played on ice, but rather than using skates and sticks as in hockey, players wear shoes and wield brooms to hit a ball about the size of a softball.
The sport originated in Canada, although Sweden contests that claim. The rules are similar to hockey, and broomball also features teams of six. Broomball’s popularity on Michigan Tech’s campus blossomed after I graduated, and it now takes three rinks constructed on campus to meet the schedule demands of six leagues and more than 200 teams.
Michigan Tech set up webcams on the rinks, and installed a trailer as a warming shelter and place to serve free hot cocoa.
Michigan Tech sticks to tradition and only allows players to use corn brooms. Players get creative with duct tape to customize their brooms, cutting the bristles in different ways that make them better for offense or defense. While I was a student at Michigan Tech, broomball players usually only sported winter hats as head protection. Now, the university requires a helmet with a face mask.
I brought my own elbow and knee pads, and borrowed a hockey helmet and broom from my son, who plays on two teams.
During Winter Carnival, Michigan Tech offers an alumni-student invitational tournament that plays games on Friday and Saturday. On the second day of the tournament, players get a traditional “Yooper” lunch: a pasty and a pickled egg.
My team, dubbed “Team 52” in honor of our captain’s birthday, played on Friday. The team included a few recent graduates and alumni from the 1980s and 1990s. One teammate now works as a professor on campus, and many of his students showed up as a cheering section. The first team we played won last year’s tournament, and was composed of all young men. Team 52 had six men and four women.
Alumni teams were guaranteed to play at least two games. Team 52 lost both.
We went down in a blaze of glory.
The scores?
15-1 and 9-1.
We did earn one trophy — the Copper Broom — awarded to the team with the highest average age.*
I played defense and took several turns as goalie. I confess my time as goalie revealed me as a sieve. My eye-hand coordination leaves a lot to be desired, but I did make one nice save.
With my throat.
While I temporarily found breathing difficult, the nods and “Good saves” from opposing team members made it worth it.
Hurting my left knee in the second game made it slightly less fun. And my skin sports several bruises from places where I either stopped the ball or hit the ice.
But I found playing broomball so much fun that I would play again. I’ll just invest in better knee, shin and neck protection.
And work on my slap shot.

*The Copper Broom is a spirit award. But I believe we earned it with our combined average age. 
Check out this story about the alumni broomball tournament.

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