Maybe you’re a Caps fan missing NHL action or are just searching for a sport that requires no experience and involves ice, fun and general ridiculousness. Look no further than broomball, a bizarre cross between ice hockey and field hockey.
Players slide around the ice wearing rubberized shoes with bristles (no skates) and use a stick with a wooden or metal shaft and a rubber broom-shaped head.
Played mainly in the Midwest, upstate New York and Canada, broomball arrived in D.C. four years ago when Ryan Schradin decided to start the DC Broomball League. It began with a Facebook page and a couple of pickup games at local rinks, but the sport has grown into eight teams across two leagues and more than 100 participants playing every season.
“It’s a high-energy, physical sport for people who want something that’s social and competitive, but more intense than kickball,” said Schradin, a public relations and social media expert at Strategic Communications Group in Silver Spring, Md.
In a game of broomball, two teams of six players each try to score the most goals in the opposing team’s goal, which is about 6 feet by 8 feet. They play with rules and tactics similar to hockey, but with a ball instead of a puck.
Wendy Jason, a social worker at Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, plays in both of D.C.’s broomball leagues and serves as a team captain. Although she had to prove herself as a woman in a male-dominated sport, she loves it because of the friendships she’s made while playing.
“Broomball is a strange sport. It’s very masochistic. It’s kind of crazy. I had my nose broken my first season of playing and I’m still coming back,” she said. “But I would really encourage people to come out and give it a try. You just have to be courageous, be willing to fall down and get bumps and bruises.”
Some people join broomball teams because they played in college or grew up playing hockey or lacrosse. But many players have no experience at all, and the friendly, low-ego environment of the D.C. leagues gives new players plenty of time to learn.
“Captains take the time to get newer players up to speed,” Schradin said. “I’ve never seen someone come in and not be able to handle it.”
For those who want to take their broomball seriously, DC Broomball also runs travel teams with government-themed names such as the Legislators and the Regulators.
But their most competitive team is the Nomadic Hordes. The Hordes won their first national championship earlier this year, a big accomplishment for such a young program, Schradin said. He also organizes the annual DC Broomball Invitational, which features teams from around the country competing for the Congressional Cup.
Even members of Congress have played broomball. House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., recalled playing the game during his undergraduate years at Miami University in Ohio, where more than 4,500 students participate in the largest collegiate broomball league in the country.
Fellow Miami alumnus Justin Schachner discovered broomball in his freshman year and has played on and off in the 12 years since. Playing broomball is a bit embarrassing, he said, but that adds to the fun.
“There’s sort of a camaraderie in that we all do something we don’t want to tell people about,” said Schachner, a consultant at KPMG. “When you come into work with a bruise on your hand, you lie about it because you know it’s dorky and ridiculous.”
Most appealing for some, you don’t have to be the greatest athlete to excel at broomball.
“Just because you’re really athletic or fast, that doesn’t mean you’re the better broomball player,” Schachner said. “The ice really evens that out. And even the good players will fall down. Everyone can look stupid in this game.”
Schachner added that because few people have much experience playing broomball, new recruits aren’t intimidated the way they might be with tennis, soccer or football. The sport becomes a fun way to socialize with friends rather than a stressful experience where people don’t feel skilled enough to play.
DC Broomball offers two leagues: South, the more competitive and experienced group, meets at Tucker Road Ice Rink in Fort Washington, Md., and North, the low-key recreational league, plays at Rockville Ice Arena. Leagues meet for three seasons a year — fall, winter and spring — and each season is six weeks of games and two weeks of playoffs. Registration costs $110 and covers ice time and equipment, which beginners can borrow until they decide to invest in their own shoes, mask and stick.