Broomball beyond Bethel

For some students, broomball is an intramural sport that offers a bit of fun during the Minnesota winters. But for others, broomball at Bethel sparks the beginning of life-long devotion. Just ask Shalanah (Backus) Dawson ’06, Grant Dawson ’05, and Jacob Broten ’01, who have all dedicated their lives to broomball—at least in part.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

March 11, 2020 | 10:30 a.m.

Broomball tournament

The GOATs won Bethel's 2020 alumni broomball tournament.

When Grant Dawson ’05 created his team for the 2020 Alumni Broomball tournament on January 31, he called them the GOATs. His teammate Jacob Broten ’01 was concerned that those who didn’t understand the sports’ acronym for Greatest of All Time would assume that they’re the goats that Jesus banished to His left in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew.  

Broten, who is arguably the greatest broomball player Bethel has ever produced, had no need for concern. The GOATs walked away from the tournament victorious, few knowing how elite these players actually are.

“Intramural broomball is kind of a fun thing at Bethel. People would die to know that there’s someone from Bethel, that literally the year after they graduated went to the world championships of broomball and was the MVP of the world championships. That’s crazy. That just doesn’t happen,” Broten says, laughing.  

Broten playing broomball

Jacob Broten '01 will be inducted to the USA Broomball Hall of Fame in April.

Broten’s Broomball Origin Story 

The Broten name is well-known in the hockey world. Three of Jacob Broten’s cousins have played in the NHL—one was even on the Miracle on Ice team in the 1980 Olympics. Though Broten was initially on the Bethel hockey team, he broke his ankle during his sophomore year and had to stop playing.

Thankfully, the next best thing at Bethel is broomball, and Broten had a God-given knack for the sport. Broomball tournaments and games occupy many students’ nights and weekends, satisfying the desire for physical competition without committing to a full athletic season. Beyond Bethel, there are generally four different types of broomball leagues. They’re ranked from A teams to D teams, where D teams are outdoors, more casual, and less competitive, while A teams include elite indoor players who compete in national and worldwide championships. 

Broten played broomball for the rest of his time at Bethel and didn’t think much of it—until his men’s Bible study talked about ways they could be intentionally involved in communities lacking strong Christian influence. They decided to form a broomball team and join a league in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Although this experience was largely for the fun of it, Broten was quickly encouraged to try out for an A-team called USA Red, which hadn’t beaten its arch rivals, USA Blue, for three years. 

Broten tried out for the team, but he found the atmosphere in the locker room challenging. He had been surrounded by people of strong faith for most of his upbringing, and the broomball players’ conversations and their attitudes were much different than he was used to. He had decided not to join the team, but his one-day wife, Sonja, said, “I don’t get it. I thought that’s what you were praying for.” 

Determined to be an example as a man of faith to these communities rather than someone who merely talked about spreading salt and light, Broten joined USA Red in 2002.

And what a season it would be.

USA Red not only beat USA Blue—they beat them twice. In true movie-like fashion, USA Red beat Blue in the semifinals of the 2002 World Championship to advance and defeat the Canadians in double overtime. It was the first time a USA men’s team won the broomball World Championship. Broten scored the most points at Worlds and was named the tournament’s most valuable player, making him the first American to receive the award.   

Though Broten treasures the award, winning was never really the point. “In the beginning, I was really brash. I would tell people: ‘The reason I am playing this sport is because I want to share the Gospel with you.’ Guys would spit on me. They would mock me. They would tell me to go back to church,” Broten says. Once he led Red to victory and won MVP, his experience changed.

“Now, God took me as this young punk that nobody cared about and put me on this pedestal, where all the sudden guys would come to me like, ‘I went to church once when I was in high school.’ They wanted to play with me,” Broten says.

Broten Family

“One of the things Sonja and I love is that the community of broomball players know our family. They know what we stand for and what we’re about,” Jacob Broten '01 says.

Broten played broomball on an international level for five years, but at the peak of his prime, he stepped away from the sport in order to do overseas work in Africa. His teammates and the surrounding broomball community were shocked at his decision. However, he had always been up front about his reasons for playing: “I’ll do this for as long as the Lord wants me to do it. This isn’t the most important thing in my life. The most important thing in my life is to live for the Lord, and this is what he’s calling my family to do.” 

Broten has spent multiple three-year terms in Africa, and when his family comes home to the Twin Cities for nine months at a time, he picks up right where he left off, winning championships like he had never left. In fact, Broten will be inducted into the USA Broomball Hall of Fame in April.

“Broomball is something the Lord has blessed me to be able to do,” Broten says. “And I look at it and think that the Lord has given us our skills and our hobbies and our interests and our talents for a purpose. It’s not really that important, but it puts us in an arena with certain people, and he wants us to make an impact in their lives. This is that arena for me.”

Dawson Wedding

Grant Dawson '05 and Shalanah (Backus) Dawson '06 technically met because of broomball.

A Dawson Broomball Love Story

Grant and Shalanah (Backus) Dawson ’06 technically met because of their mutual “obsession with broomball.” 

On his freshman floor, Grant lived across from someone who convinced him to give the sport a try. They played together and wanted to improve, so they built a goal to practice with on Lake Valentine in January. Grant says, “I took to broomball in a really obsessive way.”

At the last minute, Shalanah joined Grant’s team for a dorm versus dorm tournament her junior year. When she studied her impromptu teammates, she noticed Grant. They didn’t have a great opportunity to connect, but when Maggie (Enz) Briggs ’06, a fellow teammate, had witnessed Shalanah’s talent, she asked her to play on their team in an outdoor broomball league the following season. 

“She’s asking me a year in advance,” Shalanah says. “I said of course I’ll play. I love broomball, and I’ll play with you guys. She hounds me for a year. Then it comes around to that season, and I see that Grant’s on the roster, and I think, ‘Oh, this will be interesting.’

Grant counters: “Meanwhile I’m hearing my friend who’s doing the hounding of Shalanah saying, ‘Oh this girl’s amazing. She’s such a good broomball player.’ She’s talking her up, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this will be interesting.’” 

At the start of that season, they officially met at a warming house in St. Paul. They connected because Grant acknowledged and respected Shalanah’s talent. “He would pass to ladies and men equally,” Shalanah says. “That was important to me. If you passed to dudes only, we would not be sitting here.” 

“You realize very quickly that the best teams in the world are the teams who use all six players on the ice. I never understood why a player wouldn't pass to another athlete?” Grant says, baffled.

Shalanah is also one of the great broomball players to come from Bethel. She is a multi-time national champion and an International Federation of Broomball Associations (IFBA) world finalist. 

The couple plays up to five broomball games on an average week, sure to plan vacations around their Tuesday night league lest they lose the opportunity to play, especially since they’ve been involved with the league for the last twelve years. They love the broomball community in the Twin Cities and across the world. “It seems to me that its full of a varied and wonderful collection of people from many backgrounds, who share a common interest,” Grant says. “Both Shalanah and I feel grateful to be a part of it.”

Shalanah playing broomball

Shalanah is more than willing to answer any questions about connecting with the broomball world beyond Bethel; her email is: For women interested in learning more, this website is also a great resource:

A Bethel Broomball Reunion

Broten came home just in time for Bethel’s third annual Alumni Broomball Tournament. He had talked with Shalanah at a birthday party for a fellow broomball player, and they mentioned it would be fun to play a Bethel tournament again. Broten had intended to keep their skill level a secret, but Grant not so subtly gave it away with their team name. 

One of the people on the team was the man who introduced Grant to broomball, Greg Lindblom ’04, GS’09, so everyone felt nostalgic. “It was fun driving up to the outdoor rinks I haven't visited since college. I remember throwing on our gear, but really terrible gear. We spent hours and hours here," Shalanah says.

Surprisingly, the championship game was closer than expected. The GOATs won 2-1 in overtime against a team of fast, scrappy players. “Thankfully, Broten did what Broten does,” Shalanah says. “In overtime, he took a beautiful shot, which is what he’s known for. He's a prolific scorer. He comes up under pressure.”

Grant adds, “They were young, fit, and fast. We are old and slow.”

Overall, the alumni tournament was a success. “All the teams were made up of people who were just out there to have a good time,” Grant says. “Everybody had a great attitude about it. We were all goofing around. That was really fun. It was great. The whole of event couldn’t have been done better.”

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