BROOM TO GROW
Yes broomball is a sport and, yes, it's a lot like ice hockey.
But even to people who know what it is, broomball likely is associated with curmudgeonly old men who take more time to work their way down the ice than a Zamboni in low gear.
Not exactly a fast-paced event, but the Warriors are on a mission to change that.
Founded by Fargo resident Justus Foss, 24, and comprised of men mostly in their 20s and 30s, the Fargo broomball team has made a name for itself in its relatively short period of time. Last year, in just their fourth year as a team, the Warriors finished ranked 21st in the American standings and were 62nd in the world.
Oh, and they won the Minnesota Sports Federation C State Championship, too.
"We started out only five years ago," Foss said. "It's crazy how fast it's grown."
After last season's success, the Warriors were moved into the B league of the Minnesota Sports Federation. But there's still room to grow, and Foss - a passionate person who can talk for hours about the sport he thrives on - has high hopes when looking at the future of broomball in North Dakota.
"Our goal is to get better ... and move up in the national ranks," Foss said. "But my big dream is to keep expanding."
Open to anyone
To Mike Gillund, 29, of Fargo, the best thing about broomball is its inclusiveness, and the quickness at which most participants pick up its idiosyncrasies.
"The cool thing about it is it's a sport that you can get better at," he said. "If you watch, learn and listen, you can get better; you can go from zero to something and see a marked improvement."
And he ought to know. It wasn't that long ago when Foss, an old soccer buddy, finally talked Gillund into giving broomball a whirl. At first it was tough, Gillund admitted, but he soon got the hang of things and quickly worked up the ranks to earn a seat on the Warriors roster alongside other top players.
To people like Foss and Gillund, the draw of broomball is simple.
"The camaraderie we have can make it an all-night event," Foss said. "We watch the games, and just hang out before and after."
The rules of broomball also are fairly easy to figure out.
"Think of it as a soccer-hockey mix with a bit of lacrosse," Gillund said.
As in hockey, there are goals (albeit larger than a standard ice hockey goal) on either end guarded by a net minder. Games are split into two 18-minute halves, although Foss said the Fargo league plays 22-minute halves. Teams typically are comprised of about a dozen players, five of which square off at a time from each side. Off sides is similar to hockey, but it begins at the player's defensive line, not at center ice.
Unlike hockey, however, the use of hands to play the ball is acceptable.
"We even encourage it," Foss said.
To score, a player must simply shoot the ball - a small, rubber dodge-ball-esque projectile filled with air - past the goalie. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Ties result in extra periods that first drop a player from each side, and eventually a goalie, if need be.
And for a sport that, by all accounts, is hockey without skates, broomball offers an alternative to people who haven't made that leap from sneakers to blades.
"It's perfect for anyone who has played street hockey but didn't know how to skate. Or who played pond hockey in the winter but had no ambition to play on an actual team," Foss said.
Aside from its many accolades, however, Foss admitted that broomball does have one drawback.
"It can be expensive to start out," he said.
Even a cheap pair of shoes - thick-soled sneakers specially designed to grip the ice - run about $70, Foss said. And then there's all the other equipment like a stick, gloves, shin guards and helmet.
Not to mention the cost to play on a league.
It can be a bit intimidating to tight wallets, but Foss said the Warriors offer to borrow equipment to anyone interested in giving broomball a try.
Foss' recruitment efforts in the Fargo-Moorhead have worked well. So well, in fact, that what started out as just the Warriors has blossomed into three teams. Currently there are the upper-echelon Warriors, followed by the Knights and Gladiators.
But Foss isn't satisfied with just three. He'd love to see broomball take off in North Dakota as it has in other states like Minnesota, where the Warriors receive the bulk of their competition.
"I'd love to host our own Warriors tournament," Foss said.
As a bonus incentive for people curious about the sport, the Warriors have been offering a summer developmental league designed to help get players "familiar with broomball before league play starts in the fall," Foss said.
Teams meet Sundays at Veteran's Memorial Arena in West Fargo to scrimmage and learn the ropes. Foss said more experienced players from the Warriors are intermixed with the newcomers to help give tips and advice when needed.
Foss hopes that if enough people get involved, more teams will pop up. At the moment, however, he still has to get prospects to look past the $452 it costs a team to register with the Fargo Park District.
But Foss is optimistic.
"It's a unique sport, and it's addicting," he said. "Once you start, you can't stop; it's like Pringles."
At a glance
For more information on broomball, check out the following:
E-mail the Fargo Warriors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the Warriors website by visiting www.hometeamsonline.com and searching for Fargo Warriors.
Look up the Fargo Park District at www.fargoparks.com for upcoming season schedules and registration information.