SPORTS

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March 7, 2003

Midway broomball competition heats up as weather gets colder

As the sun descended on Tuesday evening, it took with it the mild weather of the day. In with the darkness was a prolonged, steady sprinkling of snow. In fact, it was more than a sprinkling. Sprinklings of the duration seen on Tuesday evening are no longer classifiable as such. By 9 that evening, not a square foot of sidewalk could be seen, a trend that lasted until midday Wednesday as the various ways of moving snow proved more slow than fruitful.

Not saved from this frigid entombment, the skating rink on the Midway allowed snow to accumulate with great rapidity. This, however, did not prevent the IM Broomball playoffs from progressing. No, even as the tiny, wet flakes whipped into their faces from the sky and from the ground, the competitors persisted--and that was just the walk to the rink.

Once arrived, the quarterfinalists surveyed the scene. Though accustomed to variations in the consistency of the ice--be it from a dusting of snow, or as a function of the Zamboni operator's whims--nothing could have prepared them for the conditions on the ice.

Broomball, you see, is meant to be a comedy of errors. Tennis shoes and winter boots fumble to grip the ice, while campus broomballers chase a small ball around the rink. They swipe at the ball with awkward and overgrown ice scrapers, trying to push it into a hockey goal. In so doing, they attempt to avoid the perils of the slick ice. The brutal unwritten rule in broomball is that at least three players on the ice at any given time must be on the ground, in the process of falling, or in the process of trying to stand after falling. This rule derives from the sprinting that must take place on the ice, as the ball skips quickly over the ice and changes directions with each ice scraper's swatting. The broomballers cannot change directions so quickly. Even so, they try, and then experience the delights of gravity's pull.

On Tuesday evening, the ice was covered in snow by the time the teams arrived for warm-up drills. It was not packed yet, and the consistency of Tuesday's snow was such that it would never truly "pack" in the strict sense of the word. The snow provided something to grip--an anomaly for anything related to the surface of a broomball rink--but it was deceptive. As difficult as it is to grip when running, the ice allows one to build up speed while running. The snow allowed no such luxury. The ball could not skip across the surface at its usual speed. Rather, it dribbled along at a percentage of its former speed, though retaining more grace in the adverse weather conditions than the players.

You might have hoped that the snow would provide traction, even at the expense of a little footspeed. It did--but what an ironic, cruel assistance! To move at a respectable speed, you had to push with a certain amount of force into the snow--the same way you struggle in dry sand. However, that force was just strong enough to push your foot into the bare ice beneath. Just at the point of gripping and moving gracefully, your hopes and dreams come crashing down as you make your acquaintance with the snow-padded ice below.

Predictably, the matches were slow, as many minutes were spent bathing in the flakes of accumulated snow that filled the rink. Nonetheless, the spirit of the competition prevailed, and the contest, with all its normal vigor--and added awkwardness--propelled the teams further into the intramural tourney.

With his next pass over the rink, the Zamboni will erase the memories etched in the ice by the competition of the previous evening. However, the heroics of those who were able to win in such adverse conditions will be permanently etched in the mind of anyone who was on the ice. Indeed, long after the snow turns to slush, and then to water, and then drains away, the memories of the snow's impact will remain.