It used to be only Harry Potter could catch the golden snitch, but now muggles can too thanks to some creative thinking from college students.
In the Harry Potter book series written by J.K. Rowling, quidditch is a magical sport in which two teams compete on flying broomsticks until a flying ball called the snitch is caught by one of the players. The game is played in a parallel world where non-magical humans, called “muggles,” are not allowed.
Since it’s beginning in 2005, “ground quidditch,” the real-life version adapted from the book series, has spread to more than 400 schools and colleges across the country as an intramural or club sport, according to the International Quidditch Association’s, or IQA, website. The idea of making quidditch into a real-life sport came from Xander Manshel, a Middlebury student.
ThreeSixty Journalism is nonprofit youth journalism program based at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. It is committed to bringing diverse voices into journalism and related professions and to using intense, personal instruction in the craft and principles of journalism to strengthen the civic literacy, writing skills and college-readiness of Minnesota teens.
Sam Bruno, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Morris, only joked about playing quidditch until a classmate approached her about starting a league. She ended up helping create one of 70 active teams in the Midwest, according to the IQA website.
“I love Harry Potter and the ability to escape reality,” Bruno said. “I’ve just tried to create a fun environment where people can be as nerdy as they’d like but also get some exercise.”
Since the team first got its start at Morris, quidditch has grown in popularity around campus. Bruno hopes to start a league and tournament for Midwest colleges while she is still a student.
“The school has been very supportive,” Bruno said. “They want us to hold intercollegiate games.”
For teams that can raise enough money to play, the IQA has hosted four national tournaments since 2005 at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt. IQA Commissioner Alex Benepe, a Middlebury College graduate, said the sport is growing “so fast it’s hard to keep up.”
“Although Harry Potter is the point of entry for everyone, it’s the quality and fun of the game that keeps people coming back for more,” Benepe said.
In the first Ground Quidditch World Cup in 2005, there were only eight teams and 100 spectators. By 2009, the World Cup hosted 21 teams and more than 2,000 spectators, according to the IQA website.
In the Harry Potter novels, witches and wizards use magic to bewitch the game’s key pieces: the broomsticks, the balls, and the golden snitch. In ground quidditch, players run with a broomstick between their legs as a substitute for flying, keeping one hand on the stick at all times, while trying to throw a dodgeball through one of three raised hula-hoops. The snitch is substituted with a cross-country runner dressed in gold, and the game ends when the snitch is caught. If the snitch isn’t caught, the game ends after 30 minutes – two 15-minute halves. The team with the highest score wins the game.
The official field size is 48.4 yards by 33 yards, or about half the size of a soccer field, said Ziang Chen, the IQA Midwest director.
Chen said that when a team is first created, many teams fundraise to play.
“They usually have to raise about $260 for equipment,” he said.
At colleges and high schools, teams need permission from their schools to play, which Bruno said was an easy process at Morris.
“We just filled out some paperwork, talked with the activities director and we were ready to go,” Bruno said.
According to the IQA rulebook, teams are required to allow both girls and boys to play. Ground quidditch is not just limited to one demographic, Benepe said.
“I think people get the idea that it’s more of a nerd thing but it’s really not,” Benepe said. “You get people from all walks of life, which is different from other sports.”
While ground quidditch is popular at many college campuses throughout the country, the sport is also increasing at high schools.
Gavin Ovsak, a senior at Eden Prairie High School, was thinking about playing ultimate frisbee his junior year but decided he’d rather take on the challenge of quidditch.
“It is challenging because you have to hold a broom with one hand and catch a ball with the other,” Ovsak said. “Not many sports are one-handed so it is a unique challenge.”
Because so many quidditch teams want to play in the World Cup, Benepe said that the IQA found a larger venue for the 2010 World Cup in New York City, and will allow high school teams to play this year.
Also, as different leagues are being created around the country, Valerie Fischman, a student at the University of Maryland, has created a movement to make quidditch an official NCAA sport.
Benepe said that because of the vast amount of media coverage by CBS and other news organizations, interest in the sport has continued to skyrocket.
“Whatever happens to Harry Potter, whether it endures or fades in popularity, I think this sport and league will continue to grow,” he said.
Editor’s note: Below is a video about the 2008 Quidditch World Cup by Eva Sollberger of “Seven Days,” an alternative weekly in Vermont. Video posted with Sollberger’s permission.