Broomball: it’s ‘ballet on ice’

Gray Hughes

On Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings during the winter, a game is played on the ice by the Hill City Visitor Information Center that has been described by many (tongue-in-cheek) as “ballet on ice.” The game is broomball.

Broomball has been played in Hill City for over 20 years, said Jeff Schlukebier, who helps organize the games and brought the game with him from his homeland of Minnesota to Hill City.

“If I had four or five people playing when we first started that was pretty good,” Schlukebier said. “We had a pastor at a church maybe 20 years ago who was into broomball, and we got a lot of people from that church.”

From there, it started to grow. From Saturdays during the winter from 10 a.m. until noon and then Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m., upwards of a dozen people can be found at the pond at the visitor information center.

Broomball is similar to hockey in terms of positioning. There are defenders, wingers, a center and a goalie. Schlukebier said the passing and setting up shots is the same, but unlike hockey there is no checking and the broomball players try to keep their sticks below their waste.

“And then we require people to wear helmets, mostly for head injuries,” Schlukebier said. “We’ve had too many falls over the years.”

Schlukebier recommends using a soft, spongy shoe such as a court shoe. Boots, he said, are too stiff, and they slide more. Softer shoes, Schlukebier explained, have more grip than a stiff shoe.

What the broomball provides, Schlukebier said, is comrade, fellowship and a chance to work on teamwork. The city provided lights so participants can play at night, organizers have sticks and helmets and “the lord provides the ice,” Schlukebier said.

People today have too much screen time, he added, and it’s good to be outside during the winter.

“Sure, it’s cold, but when you are moving like this you don’t even know it’s cold,” Schlukebier said. “We also try to provide some food, some fellowship afterwards for camaraderie.”

And people don’t need to participate in order to eat the postgame meal, he added. People can come down to the pond, watch, have a cup of coffee and have some soup afterwards.

There’s also a great sliding hill right by the pond, Schlukebier said.

The games start as soon as the ice is thick enough to support the players — about four inches — which typically happens in the beginning of December, Schlukebier said.

“We play all December, January and February, for sure,” he said. “March becomes iffy. Last year, we played through March because it was a cold winter, but we play until people start falling through the ice. The last game we play, the ice will be breaking up, and then that’s it. We generally have someone break through the ice every spring.”

Saturdays are the most popular days. On this Saturday, there were 13 people on the ice, which Schlukebier said is a good day. The more people out there, the better, he added.

The games are open to everyone. They are pickup games and open to all ages (although teenagers from retired age is best). If someone who is participating is younger than a teenager, Schlukebier said it’s best to have a parent out there, too.

“No tax money, no community money is involved,” Schlukebier said. “There’s really not much expense. Once we got the sticks and the balls and we made the nets, it’s a pretty low-cost game. People don’t need to go really far to play it. They don’t need any special stuff to play.”

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