When a person mentions quidditch, they’re most likely talking about something they saw in a Harry Potter movie, read in a Harry Potter book, or the Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup video game. On the other hand, they might be talking about the real life Quidditch World Cup which is being held for the sixth time this coming April.
Wait, quidditch is a real sport? And it’s going on its seventh year of existence? Yes, it’s very real and its governing body, the International Quidditch Association, just wrapped up two large events in the past week in the form of an international “Olympic” exhibition in Oxford and QuidCon Chicago. But before we delve into where quidditch is at and where it’s headed, let’s give some background on the sport.
Quidditch: From Fantasy to Reality
Quidditch started in 2005 when Middlebury College student Xander Manshel designed the rules for real-life quidditch and held the first game at Middlebury between Middlebury students. Manshel was initially hesitant about getting fourteen people to play, but more than thirty students showed up and it took off from there. But how did a fantasy sport that involves flying on brooms become a reality?
Well, the rules are a bit different. In the Harry Potter books, the game is a seven-on-seven spectacular with four positions, all flying on brooms. Three “chasers”, who are similar to strikers in soccer, try to score the “quaffle” (a red ball with four large dimples for gripping) into one of three hoops for ten points. There is the “keeper”, who is similar most similar to a goalkeeper in soccer, with the objective of stopping opponents from scoring. Each team then has two “beaters”, players who carry around wooden bats to deflect two magical iron balls called “bludgers”, enchanted to hit players off brooms, from their teammates and in the direction of opponents. Then there is finally the seeker, who chases after a walnut sized golden ball with wings called a snitch which when caught both ends the game and awards the team who caught it one hundred and fifty points.
How in the hell did Manshel and his friends adapt this sport for real life? That’s exactly what I said when I read this ESPN article three years ago. Well, they decided to keep the brooms – players had to hold them between their legs with a hand or with their thighs. If they drop it, they have to run back to behind their hoops to reenter play. The quaffle became a volleyball, but chasers still have to score it and keepers still have to protect three hoops of varying heights. The beaters now throw the two bludgers, which became three dodge balls, at opposing players, who if it have to run back to behind their hoops.
But how in the hell do you recreate a flying golden walnut? The rules addressed that as well. Now a person dresses in a gold outfit, with a tennis ball placed in a sock. This is then placed in their waistband. The two seekers need to grab that tennis ball, though in the real world, it only counts as thirty points.
Back to Manshel and his friends at Middlebury. No one probably thought the sport would spread to other colleges, right? Wrong. Never underestimate the power of fanboys and fangirls. Middlebury played Vassar College on November 11th, 2007 in their version of the Rutgers-Princeton football game of 1896. The game exploded across the country from there.
Quidditch: From Intermural to Intercollegiate
After the Middlebuy-Vassar game Manshel’s friend and head of the intermural club, Alex Benepe, decided to informally found the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, later the International Quidditch Association, according the IQA’s COO Alicia Radford.
“A lot of people come to the sport because of the Harry Potter association, but what has made it last this long and continued the growth isn’t so much the association, but that it’s a good game. People come for Harry Potter, but they stay for the sport.”
“We’re proudly building a sport from the ground up,” Radford said in an interview at this past weekend’s QuidCon. “It just would not be possible if it was a different sport because people that start quidditch teams are people who I think naturally go along and do their own thing, no matter what society thinks of them.
Radford then chuckled as she gestured to Benepe, saying that they are the type of people that thrive on being called “weird” or told it would never work. She then asked Benepe if someone told him that they’d never have a ninety-four team tournament, to which he replied yes.
“And then we did,” Radford said. “A lot of people come to the sport because of the Harry Potter association, but what has made it last this long and continued the growth isn’t so much the association, but that it’s a good game. People come for Harry Potter, but they stay for the sport.”
The old adage “if you build it, they will come” rang true for the quidditch. According to the IQA’s website, there are currently over 800 teams worldwide, with 687 in the United States, 48 each in Canada and the UK, 28 in Australia, and many more across the world.
The previously mentioned ninety-four team tournament? It was World Cup V in New York City’s Icahn Stadium, completed in November of last year. The teams consisted of college teams, high school teams, community teams, and befitting of its name, teams from other countries such as Finland.
Quidditch: From New York to Oxford
Remember that “Olympic Exhibition” I mentioned earlier? It was completed just over a week ago in the United Kingdom. It featured five teams from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and a Canadian team that joined at the last minute.
Benepe explained the difficulties of organizing an event in a foreign country, such as the park service telling them they didn’t need insurance and then reversing that stance a week before the event. However, he was happy with the turnout.
“We wanted to get a wide variety of teams,” Benepe said. “I was really happy with getting five teams, that was great. We also got a lot of good press that helps raise the profile of the sport.”
Benepe then said that the exhibition will hopefully continue in the future. If there’s enough demand and people able to organize it, it could become yearly, but he’d rather it follow the Olympics.
“The next Olympics is in Rio, so that would be pretty cool,” Benepe said. “South America, specifically Rio, has a bunch of quidditch teams already – so four years from now, I feel it could be a great scene for another Expo game.”
He then said that ideally the next Expo will be a real expo, as this one was ultimately them playing at an Olympic Torch festival in Oxford.
“South America, specifically Rio, has a bunch of quidditch teams already – so four years from now, I feel it could be a great scene for another Expo game.”
As for the press Benepe mentioned, here’s a Time.com article about it possibly becoming an Olympic sport, a Reuters article about it being promoted at the torch ceremony, and a Forbes article about how sponsors should jump all over the sport to earn revenue.
“Most people who play are nerds but we have a lot of jocks or athletes playing this sport as well, some of whom have never even read the Harry Potter books,” Benepe told Reuters in the above article.
And in each article, the term “nerds” is applied to players over and over. While not necessarily a bad term, the media avoids using the term “athletes”, generally opting instead for something like “wizards”, which is fun for a minute. While I can attest to players generally being nerds, I’ve played on the University of Missouri’s team for almost a year, and wizards is definitely not a suitable replacement for athletes – not when the IQA just held a convention that featured such intense, athletic play.
Quidditch: From Game to Sport
Ask anyone who plays quidditch if it’s a game or a sport, they’ll most likely say sport. There are no timeouts, players sub in-and-out hockey style. It’s full contact, which leads to some brutal tackles and injuries, including broken bones. The snitch can wrestle seekers to the ground. Finally, an overlooked rule is that if the ball goes out of play, play continues. This leads to a fast paced, brutal endurance test.
“Rugby, basketball, and dodgeball sums up the main elements of the game,” Benepe said. “Co-ed and full contact are points I like to make early on because that’s very unique. There are no other sport’s like that.”
The QuidCon regional tournament was held on Saturday. It featured a Northeast team, a West team, a Midwest team, and the “Legion of Doom” which consisted of players from regions not able to field a team. It was a brutal affair at Naperville’s North Central college.
The temperature was in the 90′s and no clouds covered the sky to provide protection from the sun. Each team played a series of three shortened matches against each other team, and the championship match lasted twenty minutes. While this might not seem like much, there were only short breaks between games and the teams each played a set of six matches straight – essentially an hour straight of running, tackling, and dodging in a brutal July heat. If you don’t believe me about the physicality, here’s a video of the championship match.
While I won’t focus too much on the QuidCon Tournament, it was like a nationwide pick-up game, there is one series of plays that I feel compelled to point out. Bowling Green chaser Daniel “Dansanity” Daugherty, playing for the Midwest, pulled off an amazing dunk in a match against the West regional team. When trapped by two defenders in the West’s keeper zone (an area around the hoops where keepers cannot be hit by bludgers) Daugherty spun around one defender to set himself for a ferocious slam dunk over the West keeper, shattering the hoop from its pole and base, and his elbow was caught on the hoop. It made me think of Michael Jordan’s famous dunk over Patrick Ewing where he split defenders and unloaded on Ewing, Shaq’s backboard shattering dunk, and finally Vince Carter’s infamous elbow hang dunk. Later in the game Daugherty had a put back dunk off of an alley-oop, reminiscent of Taj Gibson’s 2011 Eastern Conference Finals dunk. He was truly putting on a show for everyone in attendance.
At one point, he stole a ball and was left all alone on the West side of the field. No keeper, no beaters, no chasers. Everyone stared in anticipation of what he would do. He went to the center hoop, six feet tall and jumped. He was promptly blocked by the junction where the hoop attaches to the pole. I asked him what he was thinking on that one later in the day
“I didn’t want to showboat” Daugherty said.
Come on man. That’s when you do showboat! You have to add a little Vinsanity flair. You can still avoid needless JaVale McGee style showboating. Regardless, watching Daugherty and others play throughout the day was an athletic feat to behold. Benepe made a point to “test the newly certified refs” by trying his hardest to resemble a running back running over a linebacker (when’s the last time you’ve seen Roger Goodell play football, let alone steam roll players?). Oklahoma State’s Mark Woolard IV and Boston Univerity’s Max Havlin used numerous ball fakes and spin moves to befuddle keepers. Vassar College’s Matt “Frame-by-Frame” Zeltzer won the championship, tied at 90-90 with a snitch grab nanoseconds before being hit with a bludger, to win it for the Northeast 120-90 over the Midwest.
That’s not even mentioning all the well-timed, critical bludgers thrown by the beaters, who are so underrated in their very cerebral position, well placed screens and pick-and-rolls, or seeker duels with snitches, which are basically wrestling matches amidst the chaos of the game. Chaos that resulted in many players being knocked to the ground injured and promptly getting right back up.
Purdue chaser Eric Lovell was knocked to the ground with a bruised shoulder and went right back in the next game. Northern Arizona chaser Eric “Bear Train” Andres took a vicious hit that resulted in him bleeding from his right knee. The former football player merely ran off the field and tended to it on his own, while the medical help tried to catch up to him. It was later discovered he dislocated his shoulder.* Numerous other players kept playing despite countless bruises, cuts, and scrapes. I woke up Sunday morning with seven bruises, cuts, and blisters that I didn’t know were there the night before. Such finds were the norm for everyone the following morning.
*We’re getting mixed reaction to that play. Apparently, Andres didn’t take a hit - he tried to run through a defender, and as a former football player he had already dislocated his shoulder multiple times.
All this in the span of a few hours and it wasn’t even the main focus of QuidCon. That was the programming and social aspect.
Quidditch: From Sport to Culture
QuidCon actually started the day before with workshops and lots of them. They focused on things including how to start and run a team, to history of the IQA, how to make sure your team strategizes for competition, fundraising, media relations, and how to promote “kidditch”, the version designed for younger children to play.
One presenter stressed the importance of promoting kidditch in middle schools as it promotes literacy through the Harry Potter connection, playing a sport to keep children active, it puts teams in a good light in their communities, and the fact that without a younger generation getting into the sport, it will likely die with the current crop of players.
Another workshop was focused on the development of a new spreadsheet to keep track of official statistics. Early in the morning was a lengthy, brutal test to certify head referees, who will be paid for reffing matches and are required for matches to count towards IQA standings and World Cup berths.
However, I won’t bore you with details of the workshops. Instead, I’ll provide some interesting anecdotes.
Before the formal black tie ball that was being held, there was a faux-wedding, performed by Benepe with the power invested him by the IQA, between two players. When a player objected to the wedding, he was beaned in the head with a bludgers. The couple kissed and was then given an overwhelming amount of love from all in attendance, who were dressed in formal attire of all kinds, from cocktail dresses to purple suits.
The ball itself featured a dinner, followed by a prom-style photo booth. There was dancing to be had on the floor, with Radford and snitch trainer Jeff Brice teaching all in attendance how to swing dance, including Benepe.
“Quidditch creates a sense of community that I think is hard to find in other areas of life.”
Let that sink in for a moment. That would be akin to Bud Selig or David Stern dancing with players at a formal ball at an All-Star game. It works because if there is one thing that the quidditch community does better than being a great sport to play, it’s that it provides a great community to join.
“Quidditch creates a sense of community that I think is hard to find in other areas of life,” Radford said during the ball.
Benepe said that at the least, it’s provided a stronger sense of community than what most players have had before.
Again, this was on display as the teams toured Chicago on Saturday, sharing pizza at Gino’s East and watching Navy Pier’s firework display together (which I may or may not have fallen asleep during. I was tired!)
And that sense of community is moving the sport in places it could have only dreamed of a few years ago.
Quidditch: From the Present to the Future
So, where is the sport of quidditch destined to head from here? World Cup VI is already scheduled for April 13-14, 2013 in Kissimmee, Florida, which is near Orlando. There will be sixty berths for teams, which require five official matches outside of each team’s regional tournament (think conference tournaments in college basketball). Winning a tournament gets the team a berth. There will then be twenty Division II berths. Maybe quidditch is now trying to start an April Madness?
Then, on November 17th of this year is the National Confederation of Broomstick Athletes Collegiate Cup. The NCBA was founded as a separate organization in the Spring amongst players to take the sport in a different direction then it was progressing. It started with three conferences; the Heartland Conference based in the Midwest, the Red River Conference based in Texas, and Gulf Coast Conference in the Southeast. David Gutierrez, a Texas A&M player in charge of the NCBA, says he sees some conflict with the IQA, though only because they are both formal quidditch-based corporations.
“Yes in regards to we would be the first formal corporation to form whose objectives revolve around quidditch since the IQA was formed,” Gutierrez said via email. “However, we simply look to supplement the IQA’s work in the United States and are not looking to compete against or replace the IQA. Our members still play by IQA rules and they do not need to pay additional membership fees to play under our association.”
Radford said in a radio interview earlier this year that the NCBA simply means more quidditch being organized, which is good for all involved. So thankfully, it won’t be an NBA-ABA style rivalry, forcing teams to choose and playing with stylistic differences. That will keep the sport united.
But even then beyond that, QuidCon2013.com has been registered. More tournaments are springing up. There are community teams such as the New York Badassilisks, and the Bay Area based Silicon Valley Skrewts. Those might just be the seeds of a professional league.
“There a lot of smaller niche sports that nevertheless have big followings and generate a lot of revenue,” Radford said. “I’m not sure if in our time we’d become like football, but I can see sustaining pro-teams.”
Considering the growth the sport has had in span of merely seven years, who knows where it will be in another twenty years? It can only get bigger from here.
What do you think? Do you have interest in playing quidditch? Let us know in comments below!