On a recent Tuesday night, you could find me clad in Adidas track pants, sprinting up Prospect Street in sub-freezing weather at 10:25 p.m. I had no difficulty imagining the thoughts running through the heads of the people I sped past: Is he out of his mind?
Well, maybe. But I wasn’t going on a run. And I wasn’t sprinting up Science Hill for late-night research. I was running to broomball.
For the uninitiated, broomball is like ice hockey, except played in sneakers, not skates; with a softball-sized rubber ball, not a puck; with thin paddles that resemble glorified ice-scrapers, not sticks. It is a sport that only makes sense as an intramural. At Yale, it’s played five-on-five, plus goalies, along the width of Ingalls Rink — that’s right, the proud home of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey National Champions. In the belly of this Whale, Jonah might have had a pretty good time. As long as he had some teammates.
Tuesday’s matchup — a scrum between a shorthanded but feisty Grace Hopper squad and a horde of scrappy Saybrugians — was emblematic of the sport’s virtues. My dear Hoppers jumped out ahead early when a teammate shuttled a darting center pass from the corner to the back of the net, and that was all the scoring that was necessary. Saybrook failed to convert on a prolonged charge in the second half, thwarted by an outstretched diving save from Hopper’s goalie, and returned from the battle for Elm Street emptyhanded.
Scoring is rare in broomball; it’s difficult to lift the ball in the air, and a baseball glove–wielding goalie can essentially block most of the net just by sitting on his or her knees. No one, in fact, can excel at broomball. Some folks are better than others, of course (particularly those who play field hockey), but no one looks particularly good doing it; as soon as you feel confident on ice, you fall. The stick is a blunt instrument, and ball control is perilous, however softly or loudly you speak. Willingness to slide in front of a shot to block it goes further than speed or strength. Most goals come from rebounds and people being in the right place at the right time. It’s a game of grit, not ballet.
There are referees, who stand on the sideline and watch, amused. There are no whistles in broomball. Bodies collide with bodies, sticks with shins. But fear not: There are mouthguards! (Enforcement on the new requirement to wear them has been … spotty.)
Yet there is still a glory to broomball. One feels gallant on the ice. At those rare times when someone scores a goal, the Whale echoes as if it were sold out. Teammates bang their sticks on the ground. When you return your equipment, you imbibe the putrid stench of hockey gear and hard-earned victory.
But there’s a deeper allure of this sport. There are so many groups here that self-select for some annoying attribute; broomball brings out the best of Yale.
Those who come to broomball are those who Show Up. There’s no application process, no Google Form, no rush meals, no networking opportunities, no possibility of climbing the leadership ranks. To be a leader one simply acts as a leader, without first declaring it in a resume subhead: organizing frictionless first years is no easy task. But broomball also validates us followers who play our assigned positions and look up to pass to the open skater. Show up, and you get the only carrot that matters: playing time.
And no one can look down upon anyone else because you’re all playing broomball.
Even when we do the things we love, whether in class or in extracurriculars, it’s difficult to escape the nagging bait of external motivation. Classes have grades attached to them, and it’s difficult not to measure up your activities to the blurbs lauding them on your resume.
Broomball is different. It won’t get you a job, although maybe it should. (And if my prospective employers observed my keen sense of defensive positioning, maybe I’d be employed by now.) It brings you nothing beyond immediate pleasure: the adrenaline of regaining one’s balance on ice, the camaraderie of playing on a team, the endorphins of sliding into the boards, the amusement from watching future world leaders (or at least investment bankers) fall on their butts. Call me a glutton for broomball. This is self-care without buzzwords.
This may be true of all IMs, but I find it true of broomball in particular. Basketball players show up to basketball; soccer players show up to soccer. But only those who Show Up show up to broomball. For 45 minutes, your life is not circumscribed by a Google Calendar, by shame, by fear of failing or falling.
So Show Up: to broomball or something else you care about. Make a fool of yourself. Score a goal. And get there on time.
Or, leave as late as possible, and sprint there in the frigid cold. It’s a good warm-up.
Steven Rome | firstname.lastname@example.org