By Grant Dawson
In light of the recent statement released by USA Broomball regarding the cancelled national tournament, I thought I’d present a narrative thought experiment. I’ll let the comments section on Broomball Central and Facebook serve as my peer review. Because I live on the wild side.
Author’s Note: In the grand tradition of narrative thought experiments, I’m presenting this hypothetical in story form. If it isn’t obvious in the text, let me make it obvious now: this is all made up.
It’s May, 2021. COVID-19 is conquered. The world has mostly stepped out of the shadows of quarantine and into the light of social and economic interaction. The major professional sports are playing in front of crowds. People can hug again. Travel restrictions have been lifted. And Minnesota’s Blaine Super Rink is buzzing with broomball players.
These players have come from around the country to participate in the American Broomball Federation’s inaugural National Tournament. Co-Rec teams from Pittsburgh and Charlotte. Mens’ and women’s teams from Boston, Syracuse, Fargo and even southern Florida. The pre-tournament electricity is palpable. The registration table is a controlled chaos of goodie bags, waiver forms, and welcoming handshakes. There are booths for each of the major tournament sponsors. Yes, some of the usual suspects are present (Blue Ox and Instant Replay), but what’s this? Is that a Shock Doctor booth? What are the Kind Bar people doing here? Is that Sean Hagan from Hagan Hockey, himself? This already has a very different feel.
Once registration is complete, the tournament officials gather all of the team captains for a pre-tournament meeting. The officials, having attended several training and certification sessions throughout the spring, present a clear recap of the established rules and expectations for play throughout the tournament. No one is confused about what is and isn’t allowed. Copies of the American Broomball Federation rule book are made readily available.
It is the eve of the biggest tournament of the year, and as most of the more than 60 registered teams are settling in for the night (let’s be honest, a few teams are just starting to party), everyone is thrilled with how the whole first year of the American Broomball Federation played out. Here’s how it happened.
In June of 2020, a notice went out via Broomball Central, introducing a new organization that would serve as the national governing body for broomball in the United States. It called itself the American Broomball Federation (ABF). As a registered non-profit, it sought a board of directors, and quickly filled those roles with representatives from around the country. That board then set about codifying a set of rules, which were published and distributed free of charge. The ABF created a calendar of events, which included three major tournaments, several affiliated regional tournaments, introductory classes, youth events and referee training. Most importantly, the ABF asked every broomball player in the country to become a paying member. They didn’t charge much, but they knew that in order to establish an organization with national reach, they needed revenue. In exchange for dollars, paying members received some actual benefits, including voting rights, quarterly newsletters, and discounts on tournament registration fees. The ABF made its financials transparent to members, and it seemed clear the goals of the ABF were good: 1) grow the sport; 2) train, insure and protect competent officials; and 3) host some amazing annual tournaments.
Broomballers bought in. More than 700 members signed up in the first month. The board hired an administrator to begin executing its vision. The ABF then spent countless hours in the summer months talking with tournament and league directors around the country. In part to win them over to a new way of thinking, in part to learn from them about what works and what doesn’t work in their corner of the broomball universe.
In September, the social distancing guidelines started to lift, and people gathered in groups again. Broomball leagues around the country got back to playing. Newly minted ABF members pestered their more casually participating friends to join the organization. Membership ticked up to over 1,000. The ABF steadfastly poured their resources into regional tournament sponsorships, youth outreach, and referee training. The game, as in, the whole national game, improved.
The ABF held its first tournament in November. They called it Wildcat Weekend, and it followed the classic co-rec ironman format. Held at Pittsburgh’s Center Ice Arena, players from around the country signed up as individuals in either an intermediate or elite class, and were assigned a team the night before the tournament. Players met their teammates in the locker room before their first game. The tournament was round robin, and, just for fun, the winner of the intermediate division played the winner of the elite division in a Champion of Champions game to end the weekend.
Regional indoor and outdoor league play dominated the winter months. In late February, the ABF hosted the Outdoor Shootout, the largest outdoor broomball tournament ever held. On a frozen lake outside of Moose Lake, Minnesota, dozens of hardy teams battled it out in mens’, womens’ and co-rec divisions. The Elite A Mens’ final between the Met-X Pistons and Furious went to double OT, before Eric Mackey sneaked a wrist shot under my broom for the game and tournament winner.
Through the Spring, officiating camps are held to give referees from around the country the chance to train, get educated, and improve their skills. Through the ABF, refs are better compensated, insured from accidental injury while officiating, and given tools to improve. Of course they still make mistakes, and suffer some of the inevitable on-ice verbal abuse, but they’re better equipped to handle these situations. They’re a happier, more respected bunch, which they absolutely deserve to be.
At last, May approaches. Registration for the national tournament has been closed for a few weeks. The tournament schedule is already posted online, and teams have finalized their travel plans. Broomball Central is preparing their streaming coverage. Anticipation is in the air, but really, the winner has already been decided. It’s all of us.