Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 7:51 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

State broomball tourney draws new blood

By Jillian Rogers
Special to the Homer News

There isn't much in the way of team sports for adults in Bethel.


Photo by Jillian Rogers

Homer's Elizabeth Caldwall, right, who played for the Anchorage team, tries to steal the ball from Jedd Fonkert of the Duggan's Shamrocks during the State Broomball Championships last Saturday at the Kevin Bell Arena. The Shamrocks finished second, behind first-place team Down East Saloons. The Bethel Beavers finished third.

Basketball dominates after-work intramural activities in the small community. There's dog mushing too, but teammates in that particular sport are of the four-legged, butt-sniffing variety.

So a few years ago when Luke Vanasse, 29, moved from Minnesota to Bethel, he brought broomball with him, figuring the village could use another team-oriented, winter activity.

Last weekend, a contingent from Bethel made its first trip to Homer for the State Broomball Championships, the fourth annual, held at the Kevin Bell Arena on Saturday. The Bethel Beavers finished third behind first-place team Down East Saloon and second-place Duggan's Shamrocks, both of Homer.

"In Bethel, the winters are long and there's lots of cold, there's lots of lakes so broomball is the perfect solution," Vanasse said Saturday during a break in play.

Homer teams took first and second in the seven-hour tournament, but the dark-horse Bethel Beavers held their own against a total of four Homer teams and one group from Anchorage in the team's first real competitive showing.

The Beavers play on Pinky's Pond in Bethel, where they rely on volunteers and city employees to plow the makeshift rink before their weekly scrimmages. Vanasse and a fellow Minnesota transplant applied for and received grant money to pay for equipment and travel costs.

Bethel was tied for the number one seed with the Down East team going into the playoffs.

In the final game, Homer's Dan Deschamps, who was instrumental in getting broomball started in Homer five years ago, scored the only goal of the game. He collected four goals total during the tournament. Goalie Jessica Marx had the shutout for the Down East team.

"We didn't know what to expect, but we knew the people we were bringing to this tournament were a pretty good class, but it's all relative because we didn't know how good anybody else was," said Vanasse of the Homer teams. "We also didn't know how to play on a hockey rink with boards and smooth ice."

Locals were impressed by the steadfast skills of the visitors and are optimistic that more teams from around the state will make the trek to Homer for future tournaments.

"Bethel reminds me a lot of those Canadian teams. They're very poised and very clean, great passers and just great people to play with," said tournament organizer and diehard broomballer Josiah Campbell.

Four years ago, Campbell went to one of the league's free nights to give broomball a try and hasn't looked back.

"That was when we just had wooden brooms, we didn't have the shoes ... and everyone was sliding around all over the place and it was a lot less organized than it is now," he said.

Since then the three league teams have acquired sponsors, there are organized weekly league-play nights and open nights twice a month when anyone can show up and play. The first time is free with some equipment available to try.

Next season, "we're hoping to add a fourth league team and expand to two league nights a week," said Campbell. "Our other goal is to raise as much money as we can through fundraisers because we want to keep broomball super affordable. It's a good outlet for getting through the long, dark winter."

"We've been playing since October, and I'm tired," Campbell said when asked if he was sad to see the season end. "I love the sport, but this is a nice way to finish."

Next season, broomball in Homer will kick off in September with at least one clinic for rookie players, said league founder and organizer Brandon Grochow.

"Exercising and socializing are important for everyone, and broomball offers both," he said.

Locally, the sport also has turned into somewhat of a family affair. The Fonkert brothers, Jedd and Cody, took home second and third place in individuals season stats, respectively, and Cody garnered the top point total during the one-day tournament.

"You don't have to have grown up on skates or have played your entire life to be good at broomball. That's the best part," said Cody, 24, who has been playing for two years.

The Fonkert boys don't play on the same team and though they keep it friendly, there's "always" a brotherly rivalry, Cody said.

"The winter's are long and it's great exercise. I sweat and sweat and sweat every time I play. It's the one thing you get to look forward to during the long winter," he said.

For many, including Anchorage team captain, Dick Gauntt, 25, broomball is a cheaper, less competitive alternative to hockey.

"In hockey, there's checking and fighting ... people take it way too seriously, but in broomball, you play hard, but you're here to have fun and make friends in broomball.You rarely see anyone get angry," said Gauntt.

Ryjil Christianson and Jesse Classen, who played for Duggan's on Saturday, were recognized for playing every minute of every game for their team.