A thousand years ago, battle-hardened Vikings engaged in a brutal, often-deadly sport called knattleikr. Although details of the game are mostly lost to the ages, it’s known that it was played on the frozen Icelandic countryside and that entire villages got in on the action. Matches would begin at dawn and last until dusk, tournaments could last for up to two weeks and it was not uncommon for the field to be littered with corpses when the game was over. Today, many believe knattleikr’s closest descendant to be broomball, a markedly less violent version of the sport. It’s quickly gaining popularity, especially in the Edmond area, largely thanks to college organizations and church youth groups.
Modern broomball developed in Canada around the beginning of the 20th century, and from there spread to the northern United States, where it gained an especially firm hold in Minnesota by the 1960s. An oversimplified explanation of the sport would tag it as a cross between hockey and soccer, played on ice but without skates. Players vie for control of a small plastic ball using sticks that resemble broomsticks. Much of the fun comes from slipping and sliding around on the ice, and while crushed skulls might be rare in today’s iteration of the old Viking pastime, a nasty bruise or two is considered par for the course.
Some people bring gloves and kneepads, but it’s not required for social matches, which are mostly coed. Arctic Edge Ice Arena at 14613 N. Kelly Ave. provides the sticks and other supplies.
Courtlyn Parks, an officer in Southern Nazarene University’s Student Government Association, promotes regular broomball socials at Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Edmond as a way to get students involved. He attended an SNU broomball event as a freshman and was instantly hooked. The informal one-night tournaments give 10 teams a chance to duke it out for broomball glory and bragging rights. “It’s fun to play on the ice with friends a game that no one’s really good at. It’s more of a fun thing than a completely serious sporting event,” he says.
Two appointed referees do their best to keep the games fair, but everyone focuses on having a good time, and word of how easy it is to do just that is spreading. “Pretty much everyone knows about it at school,” Parks says.
As leader of college/young adult ministry at North Church, Nelson has noticed that broomball has the best turnout of any of their events and seems to be everyone’s favorite. “We’ve been playing for just over two years now,” he says, “It’s probably the one event that everybody enjoys the most. It’s a lot of fun, running up and down, watching people fall.”
The church group meets for a match every three or four months, and it’s something people seem to pick up pretty quickly. “It’s good for everybody. A lot of girls don’t like to run up and down so they play a lot of defense and the guys run up and down the whole time. Everybody kind of finds their own thing,” Nelson says, “Our whole group plays. Some of our best players are ladies. My wife, she tears it up.”
Attendance is usually so great that Nelson’s church divides the ice and plays two games at once, with 10-15 people per team, playing 30-minute games. Then the winners of both games play each other while the losers of both games play.
“It’s competitive, but no one really cares, they’re just having a good time. A lot of times, people don’t even really know what the score is,” he says, “They’re just out there making fun of each other slipping, having a good time. The only rule we have is no high-sticking. People getting caught in the mouth with a stick is not good.”
Even though getting clocked in the teeth with a stick or slipping and bruising your tailbone on the ice in an epic spill are hazards to keep in mind, the obstacle provided by running with poor traction acts as a great equalizer between experienced players and newbies. “The ice kind of neutralizes it. There’s only so much you can do on ice. Everybody has a great time,” Nelson says, “Even if you’re not a great athlete, it’s just fun being out there.”
The next North Church broomball night is scheduled for New Year’s Eve, and it’s open to everybody. For more information, visit www.livingparadox.tv.