JACKSON, Wyo. — Sam Phillips doesn’t look like he has played broomball every winter for the past three years.
One Thursday night he wore a loose-fitting bike helmet, and one of his knee pads was duct-taped to his leg. He had old sneakers on in place of boots that might actually have provided some traction. But he’s tall and when he gets on the ice with his team, the Swamp Donkeys, he’s fast and aggressive.
“I like the competitive aspect and the friendships we all have,” Phillips said about what brought him to an outdoor ice rink in below-freezing temperatures that night. “We have a good time. Our team is pretty good.”
The Swamp Donkeys have been around for three seasons of winter broomball put on by Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation, and are back-to-back champions.
The people who play this obscure sport every winter are nothing short of committed, risking low temperatures and possible injury for a few laughs and time with friends.
The game is odd. It’s a mix of soccer and hockey played on an ice rink with no ice skates. Players run and slide around, chasing after a small ball with sticks that resemble those used by field hockey players. Most opt to wear sneakers in order to slide better. The rules are loose, and the falls are plentiful. In competitive leagues, which Parks and Rec also has, there are a few more rules. In some areas the game is played on a full-size ice rink, with center lines and offsides and all of that.
Dan Norton, temporary recreation supervisor for Parks and Rec, said that this version is “more chill.”
“Because of the nature of the game and the silliness of it, it’s super friendly,” Norton said. “There’s competitiveness, but it never gets out of control.”
Norton said broomball has been around since before he arrived in Jackson 12 years ago. Originally it was played on a rink at the base of Snow King. The teams would pile snow on the sides of the rink to act as makeshift boards. Then the games moved to Powderhorn Park and finally to the Teton County Fairgrounds. Despite shifts in location the dedication of those who play has remained the same.
“The teams that come together typically stay and play for years,” Norton said. “The same people and same faces have been around. Everyone knows each other.”
Graham Koten has played broomball for seven years and has been the Raptordactyls’ manager for the past three. He was covered in sweat after a warmup and sported a giant grin.
“It’s just the most fun,” Koten said. “It’s a great way to spend a winter night.”
It wasn’t great for Koten’s team that night, however. At the half the Raptordactyls were down 4-0.
“I think purple pants over there is reserve for the Moose Hockey team,” Koten said to his teammates during the half-time huddle. “So whatever, he’s going to score his goals.”
“Purple pants” had indeed scored on the team twice already, but no one seemed upset about it.
“Oh, so he didn’t even make the Moose team,” quipped Aaron Gallegos, Raptordactyls goalie.
The rest of the game was a mess, as you would expect for a bunch of people running around on ice armed with old ski helmets and pads dug out of a bin. There were a lot of missed goals, slides into the boards and moments when someone would take a swing at the ball, completely miss and then fall backward. It was a miracle no one left the game bleeding.
“The worst thing I’ve seen was a dislocated shoulder,” Norton said. “Considering the nature of the sport you would think there’s more.”
Norton did emphasize that a helmet, with the chin strap buckled, is a must to be allowed to play.
“Five seconds left,” Zach Montes, player for the Raptordactyls, yelled while diving for the ball right before the final whistle blew.
The last-ditch effort was useless. The Swamp Donkeys took the win, 6-2. But none of the players seemed to care about the score as they packed up gear and made plans to go grab some post-game pints.
“It’s a great way to get exercise,” Koten said. “Whether it’s 24 or zero degrees we’re out here sweating.
“We all have smiles on our face whether were down 10 nothing or up 10 nothing.”
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com