The last week of October always makes me think of Harry Potter. Obviously, the emphasis on witches and wizards is part of that, but if you’re a fan of HP, you’ll remember the first quidditch match always took place shortly after Halloween. When I first read the books, I loved the idea of this sport that reminded me so much of soccer, except you got to fly on broomsticks. When I discovered quidditch is being played on college campuses across the U.S., I wanted to find out more.
I stopped by the University of Arkansas intramural fields a few weeks ago to chat with members of the University of Arkansas Quidditch team, one of the sanctioned athletic clubs on campus. All of my quidditch knowledge comes from Harry Potter, first from reading the books, then seeing the movies as they brought quidditch to life on the big screen. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up at practice. I walked past a soccer game to what I thought was rugby practice. Then I realized the players held onto white sticks while they ran. I’d found the quidditch team.
In 2005, a student at Middlebury College laid the ground rules, so to speak, for quidditch played on the ground instead of in the air. In 2007, Middlebury and Vassar colleges competed in the first college quidditch world cup. Spurred by interest in a generation that grew up with Harry Potter, campuses begin to establish quidditch clubs across the nation.
The University of Arkansas team was founded in 2010, at the same time United States Quidditch incorporated as a non-profit and became the national governing body for the sport. The U of A club teams encourages any student, faculty or staff to join. In its short history, the team has already traveled to two World Cup tournaments and many others across the U.S. I chatted with three team members about what playing quidditch is really like.
Kelsey Menze has been on the team since 2012. She found quidditch through touring another university before choosing to attend Arkansas. On that tour, the school touted their quidditch team and piqued Kelsey’s interest. When she came to Arkansas, Kelsey decided to join the team. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” Kelsey says. “I thought it was a bunch of Harry Potter fans running around playing the game.” After four years, Kelsey is now vice-president of the club.
While the game is based on J.K. Rowling’s famous books, quidditch has really come into its own as a sport. It retains the positions made famous by Harry, Ron, Oliver Wood, the Weasley twins and Angelina Johnson: Seeker, Keeper, Chaser, and Beater. Players also must use a “broomstick” at all times. While the first games of muggle quidditch included dressing up as characters and using real broomsticks, today’s players wear athletic uniforms, and broomsticks are simply plastic pvc pipes.
Emily Fletcher also learned about quidditch while considering which university to attend. Once on campus at Arkansas, she looked up the team. “I’m a Harry Potter fan, and I’ve always loved playing sports, so having them together was just perfect.” Emily has traveled with the team to other schools for tournaments, including regionals and world cups, where more than 80 teams from across the U.S. and the world compete. While she came to the sport through her love for the Harry Potter books, she stayed because of the family atmosphere on the team. “It’s the best experience I’ve had at college,” Emily says.
Not everyone who plays quidditch is a Potter fan, though. Richie Donahou is a graduate Ph.D student at the university. He was teaching a class one day when a student’s phone kept interrupting. The student’s girlfriend had left her quidditch gear at his place and she needed it. Richie gave the student a hard time for playing the game, calling him a nerd. “Come out and try it,” the student challenged him. “I said, why not?” Richie grins and shrugs. “And I had a lot of fun.”
Richie is a beater. “I like to run around with this dodgeball and hit people as hard as I can..if I can tackle another beater, it’s just a good day all around.” He highlights what was immediately obvious when I walked up to the team practice.
Quidditch is physical. It’s not a bunch of nerds running around in robes. I watch a series of drills where three players pass a volleyball (the quaffle) back and forth, positioning themselves to throw it through one of the three standing hoops. As they pass, two beaters jog back and forth, choosing their moment to throw dodgeballs (bludgers) at the chasers and knock them out of play. A keeper guards the hoops, diving with the athleticism of any goalkeeper in soccer. Meanwhile, the seeker must remain vigilant for any appearance by the snitch. In muggle quidditch, that’s usually a person dressed in yellow with a tennis ball (the golden snitch) attached to his clothes by Velcro.
I watch a girl tackle another girl and can’t help but be impressed. This sport is rough, fast-paced and above all, fun. I find myself wishing I could jump in. That appeal has carried quidditch beyond college club teams. Those who have graduated have gone on to form community teams. Currently, Arkansas has a community team out of Ft. Smith called Tribe. Anyone from the community can join and try their hand at this fast-paced sport.
The students are unanimous in their praise for a game they’ve come to love, whether they found quidditch through Harry Potter or not. “Beginners should definitely come try it out,” Emily says. “Even if you think it might be too dorky, it’s not.”
“It’s basically like the movies, except we don’t fly,” Richie adds. “We’re kind of working on that still.”
If you’re a student interested in quidditch, check out the clubs at your local university. There may already be a team you can join. Anyone can watch the University of Arkansas team practice or compete. Check in with the team first through their Facebook page. If you’re out of college and fascinated by the idea of playing quidditch, look for a community team in your area at us.quidditch.org. You can also find information about starting your own team on their site.
Happy Halloween and Brooms Up everyone!
Quidditch photos courtesy of the University of Arkansas Quidditch Club and used with permission.