Broomball: Making the most of a frozen Lake Mendota

By Scott Reichel

Broomball, an intramural sport offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, allows students to use Lake Mendota during the winter months despite it being completely frozen.

Broomball is currently offered as an intramural sport at UW-Madison during the winter due to its similar nature to hockey. However, due to its simplistic nature, students are also able to host their own games on Lake Mendota during the winter despite the lake’s frozen nature. As a result, this sport has become popular amongst students in this university.

While most people immediately associate UW-Madison athletics with its elite basketball and football programs, the university provides every student with the opportunity to compete in a variety of sports through its intramural system through IMLeagues. One of these other sports is broomball. Since broomball is now offered in both semesters, students around the university have become extremely familiarized with this sport on campus.

Despite being a somewhat unknown sport globally, broomball most closely resembles ice hockey which makes the sport easy to learn due to its simplistic nature.

In a 2008 article for Princeton Alumni Weekly, Julia Osellame claimed broomball originated in Canada before cultural diffusion brought it to America less than a century ago.

“Broomball is growing in popularity not only at Princeton, where it has been played since 1985, but around the country. Histories of the sport report that it originated in the early 20th century in Canada and migrated to the United States in the 1930s,” Osellame said.

Although the sport’s origins at UW-Madison cannot be definitively traced, this sport has enough popularity that the university offers four separate intramural leagues during the winter and the summer. Students are able to sign up for these intramural opportunities but need to pay a small fee in order to officially register within the IMLeagues database.

However, some students might prefer to play in their own pickup broomball games due to the mandatory intramural fee that the university charges its students.

According to the university’s IMLeagues handbook, all broomball games are played at the Camp Randall Sports Center and students who pay their intramural fees are the only ones who can participate. Since it only takes a ball, some brooms and two goals to play, some students started playing broomball on Lake Mendota for free.

Michael Mulhaney, a UW-Madison senior, has used Lake Mendota countless times to start pickup broomball games on campus.

“Why should I pay the university to play when I can organize it myself for free? The lake is practically unused every winter so my friends and I decided to put it to some use,” Mulhaney said.   

He also mentioned how a decent number of brothers within his fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi, have joined him on the lake to enjoy the competitive experience of broomball.

Wyatt Hassemer, a UW-Madison sophomore, was heavily involved in high school sports but wanted to try something new once he got to college. Broomball seemed to be the answer.

“I spent my whole life playing basketball and football competitively in school. I wanted to try out a different sport with some friends and broomball gave me the opportunity to meet some new people,” Hassemer said.

UW-Madison sophomore Phillip Nowak started playing broomball because of its cost efficiency.

“Since I’m originally from Minnesota, hockey has always been a passion of mine,” Nowak said. “However, I got tired of buying new skates and sticks all the time. For broomball, there is no mandatory equipment. I can show up with an old broom and some sneakers and have a great time.”

However, one potential concern regarding this unsanctioned use of the lake is its safety. Is it possible for the ice to theoretically break which could potentially endanger the life of a student? This uncertainty could definitely deter some students from playing or even walking on Lake Mendota during the winter.

Ethan Hammen, a UW-Madison junior, has never been on a frozen Lake Mendota due to the potential safety hazard.

“I know that people walk on it all the time and that it is probably safe, but you never really know for sure. I just don’t think that it is worth the risk,” Hammen said.

When asked about the potential safety risks associated with broomball on Lake Mendota, Mulhaney seemed rather confident that the ice would not break.

“I have spent my entire life living in Wisconsin. Those winters are brutal. I know for a fact that there is at least a foot of ice on Lake Mendota. It is definitely not going to break during a broomball game. I’m confident that this sport is safe to play on that lake,” Mulhaney said.

Although some students might be too scared to try it, other students think that it looks like fun and would be open to trying it in the future.

Dakota LeCaptain, a UW-Madison junior, has never tried broomball on the lake before but would consider trying it in the future due to the entertaining and physical nature of the sport.

“Of course I would try it. I get to hit people on the ice while wearing sneakers? That sounds like a lot of fun. I will definitely have to look into that next winter once the lake freezes over again,” LeCaptain said.

Although broomball is just a recreational activity on campus, it represents something more. It showcases the grit and innovative nature of the student body. It allows students to use Lake Mendota during its offseason by letting them compete with each other for free during the cold winter months through the use of basic shoewear and household appliances.

Although I have never played broomball in my life, I can personally say that this sport sounds extremely fun and I look forward to trying it on Lake Mendota during my senior year similarly to Dakota LeCaptain.

Although the lake has completely defrosted at this point in time, students can still enjoy broomball on campus during the spring at the university’s ice rink located in the Camp Randall Sports Center.