COSTA MESA — Sprinting across the ice rink in her black street shoes, Lori Bailey raced for a rolling, cantaloupe-size orange ball. But she was too late. Two other players reached it first, whacking it away with their plastic brooms.
But Bailey continued to slide across the ice, bowling the other players off their feet.
"I'm very sore," Bailey, a 21-year-old secretary from Orange, said at the end of her hourlong match at the Ice Capades Chalet in Costa Mesa. "You play hard and you slide easily on the ice. The ball is hard to hit and you have no coordination. I landed on my back so many times."
That's broomball for you.
Not quite ready to qualify as an Olympic event, broomball is anarchy on ice.
One to three dozen players slip and slide across an ice rink in their tennis shoes, trying to hit a round ball into a hockey net with a household broom or reasonable facsimile. Most of the time, broomball is played without rules.
"It's a blast," Bailey said shortly after leaving the ice last Saturday at 2:20 a.m. "It's a sheer 'kill' attitude. No matter what you do, you're trying to get the ball into the other goal. Whether you have to put your broom between someone's legs or knock someone into a wall, you do it."
As brutal as the game sounds, few people leave the rink with more than minor bruises and soreness in dormant muscles.
Broomball was begun in Canada in the early 1900s, probably by frustrated hockey players, said Mick Sletten, a Minneapolis broomball fanatic for 17 years and one of the nation's few broomball-equipment wholesalers.
Although most broomball play is recreational in the United States, the number of broomball leagues and tournaments is growing. Two annual national competitions that began in the last five years are attracting players from seven states. Several U.S. teams are scheduled to compete next November in the first World Broomball Tournament, to be held in Victoria, British Columbia, with teams from as far away as Australia.
Organized teams have six players, including a goalie, and use a broomball rule book adopted in Canada.
Leagues exist in Stockton and in cities around the Bay Area. One of the teams, the California Bears, has been together for seven years and now competes in the area league as well as in about five regional broomball matches in the United States and Canada, according to team captain George Castonguay of San Jose.
In Orange County, broomball is played by a few hundred people, mostly on a free-for-all, recreational basis without game rules or strategies. But a group of high-school and college-age broomball enthusiasts are forming a league in Costa Mesa. So far, they have attracted enough players to make up three teams.
Scheduling problems have hindering the sport's growth. Broomball play has been relegated to late-night hours by most ice rinks, after the recreational skaters and ice hockey players have carved up the ice.
Rental expense has also been felt. Renting the rink costs about $185 to $250 an hour in Southern California.
Ice rink managers say they book the ice from midnight to 3 a.m. to church groups, college clubs and fraternities, and groups of players willing to pitch in $10 or more each to run around on the ice.
"We have it booked solid every weekend," said Daniel Despotopulos, manager of the Ice Capades Chalet in San Diego. "It's extremely popular."
Ice Capades Chalet in Costa Mesa, the only rink in Orange County, charges broomball players $250 an hour and still books the rink weeks in advance on Friday and Saturday nights, said rink supervisor Janet Spraggins.
Broomball's allure is that even a klutz can play, said Jon Jordening, director of Christian Education at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Orange. He rented the Costa Mesa rink last Saturday night for a high school youth group.
"Since everybody's at a disadvantage--no one is on ice skates and everybody is slipping and sliding around--everybody is forced to play on the same level," Jordening said. He books the rink for broomball about three times a year for an all-night group event that has become quite popular with the high school students, he said.
Most recreational players use regular household brooms, with the bristles taped into the bent shape of a hockey stick. Besides a broom, the only other standard equipment is a sturdy pair of kneepads. Total equipment cost is usually under $20.
Austin Zoutis, 18, and John Olivieri, 20, began playing in high school and took up the game seriously this year. In an effort to organize a countywide broomball league, the two Cal State Fullerton students have brought together a group of about 25 people who now play monthly at the Costa Mesa rink.
"We've been trying to pick up other teams, but there doesn't seem to be anyone else around with enough enthusiasm," said Zoutis, a freshman business and criminal justice major who lives in Santa Ana.
But among other broomball players, enthusiasm hardly seems in short supply.
"People who know about it love it and people who don't know about it should learn," said Bruce Heimbigner, 19, an auto repossessor from Anaheim who played last Saturday in Costa Mesa. "It's a fun sport. To get people out to play at 2 o'clock in the morning, there's gotta be something to it."