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Despite low turnout, broomball still slaps at the fairgrounds in Jackson

People play broomball at night
Emily Cohen
Teams gather at the Teton County Fairgrounds ice rink to play broomball on a cold winter night.

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 and 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 man breathes a cloud of vapor into a cold night.
Emily Cohen
With a sub-zero wind chill, it was a bitter cold night to start the broomball season, but Sam Fitz says he’s just excited the season is happening at all. There is record low participation this year, with only four teams competing

‘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.

“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 out 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. Duquette wore a bike helmet, high-vis vest, rollerblading elbow, and knee pads and mukluks.

People face empty stands while holding broomball equipment.
Emily Cohen
Broomball players stand on the sidelines at the Teton County Fairgrounds. Gary Duquette (left) wears a ski helmet, high-vis vest, baseball pads and mukluks.

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.”

Dwindling numbers

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.

A man wearing white coveralls with an "Elvis" nametag and protective broomball gear.
Emily Cohen
A member of the Dark Elvis team. With such low turnout for the 2024 season, some teams combined to have enough players and reserves. Elvis on Ice and Darkside combined this year to create the Dark Elvis team.

“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 he only sees some of his friends during broomball.

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,” Fitz 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 and 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.

People packing up broomball equipment.
Emily Cohen
Sam Fitz (center) celebrates with his teammates after winning the first broomball game of the 2024 season.

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.”

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