Quaffles, Bludgers, and College Students

Published On February 15, 2011 | By Hailey Thometz | Sports

There are broomsticks, rings, beaters, quaffles, bludgers, keepers, seekers and even a golden snitch.  And if Harry Potter were present, this muggle version of Quidditch would truly be a fantasy brought to life.

Muggle Quidditch is a fairly new sport that has gained popularity in various colleges across the United States.  The sport was adapted from the sport played by Hogwarts students in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  Alex Benepe and Xander Manshel from Middlebury College first created the muggle version of the sport in 2005 as an informal intramural sport.

“My friends and I played Bocce every Sunday in my freshman year at Middlebury in 2005. Then my friend Xander had an idea: how about playing real-life Quidditch on Sundays instead? We got everyone in our hall to come out and play, and it was an awesome game from day one,” said Alex Benepe, the CEO, Commissioner and President of the International Quidditch Association.

Together, Benepe and Manshel made up a rule book for how the game should be played and how people could start up their own Quidditch teams for their schools.  In 2007, the International Quidditch Asocciation (IQA) was created, and it immediately sparked people’s interest in the sport around the world.

“One match between Vassar College and Middlebury College—the first interscholastic Quidditch match in history—was the starting point of the IQA. It was covered by a featured story in the Life section of USA Today, and that inspired a ton of people to contact us and start their own teams,” said Benepe.

Since the creation of the IQA, the sport has grown tremendously.  Today over 400 colleges across the nation, including the University of Maryland, have Quidditch teams and are a part of the International Quidditch Association.

“We have about 20 core members who make the majority of the practices and another dozen who show up sporadically, plus random people who see us playing and join in for a practice,” said Steven Graf, a member of the UMD Quidditch team.

When constructing the rules for muggle Quidditch, Benepe and Manshel tried to stay as close to J.K. Rowling’s version of the sport as possible. According to Graf, the game is “a combination of basketball and dodgeball.”  The game is played on a circular field with three rings on opposing poles of the circle.  Each team is composed of seven players: three chasers, two beaters, one keeper, and one seeker. Additionally, each team has a snitch runner, whose job is to run around with the snitch and try to elude the opposing team’s seeker. The chasers work together to try and get the quaffle through the opponents’ hoop.  At the same time, the keepers work to guard their teams’ respective hoops from the quaffles.  While opponents are running around the field, the beaters try to hit them with bludgers to make them drop the quaffle. The seeker’s goal is to snatch the snitch from the snitch runner, and thus end the game.

“I think most people will say that the hardest position is seeker, and seeking sure is tough, especially when the human snitches are holding you at arm’s length while you’re desperately snatching at the back of their pants. But I think the toughest position may actually be keeper,” said Logan Anbinder, President of the UMD Quidditch team. “Since the chasers can run with the ball, it’s tough for defending chasers to strip the ball from a player running downfield in a 1-on-1 situation, and it’s really up to the beaters to hit the attacking chaser with a bludger and make them drop the ball. But if, as happens pretty often, the chaser dodges the bludgers, or the beaters just aren’t in range, it comes down to the keeper versus the chaser, who usually has his teammates to pass the ball to. So defending all three hoops is really tough!”

In Quidditch, there are many rules that all participants must follow. One particularly challenging aspect of the game is that every player must be mounted on a broom at all times.

“The first time I played, it just felt awkward to try to concentrate on holding it in place and running and watching out for the bludgers, quaffle, snitch, and other players,” recalled Sarah Woosely, a beater on the UMD Quidditch team. “At this point, it doesn’t feel weird at all to run with the broom. After time, you just get used to it and stop noticing it.”

For the UMD Quidditch team, practice is key for success.  In order to improve their skills, the team holds multiple practices each week.

“We have team practices three times a week.  At practice we run drills, scrimmage, and play drill games like dodgeball to help improve our Quidditch skills.  We also have conditioning sessions to help make sure we’re in shape to run around the pitch,” said Kayla Fitzgerald, a seeker for the UMD Quidditch team.

One of the main attractions of playing Quidditch is being able to spend time with people who have a similar love for Harry Potter.

“Since I would go around making HP references on a day-to-day basis anyway, it’s great to be on a team with people who will understand those references, whether it’s alluding to a play in the World Cup in Goblet of Fire or starting a debate over which House is the best,” said Anbinder. “Quidditch is also a really intense sport, so I’m really glad that I can be out there participating in such an athletic activity—which I may not have done had it not been for Quidditch.”

This year, the fourth national Quidditch World Cup was hosted at DeWitt Clinton Park in New York.  Almost 20,000 spectators watched as 757 players competed to try to win the title.  UMD was one of the 47 teams from around the country to compete in the tournament.

“The World Cup this year was our first, and it was a lot of fun. It was amazing to see delegations from over 40 different schools all in one place, and to see that almost everyone had the same love for the books and the series as we do,” said Anbinder. “The competition itself was very intense—we lost all three of our tournament matches, though we did win a few scrimmages afterwards. But we had a blast just watching all of the other games, meeting players from other schools, and just soaking up the atmosphere.”

In the end, Middlebury College claimed the title of ultimate champion, winning the tournament for the fourth year in a row.

“They have a very experienced team and very talented players. Some people have claimed it was the home team advantage, but their win in NYC proved that wrong,” said Benepe. “A lot of their top players are graduating this year, so I am curious to see if they will continue their winning streak at the 2011 World Cup.”

In the future, the UMD Quidditch team would like to see even more growth in the sport, as well as more appreciation for it.

“I would really like to see it be taken more seriously by other members of the campus community.  While I don’t see it becoming an NCAA sport anytime soon, you have to be an athlete to play this sport, and because of that, Quidditch should not be looked down upon,” said Fitzgerald.

Overall, Benepe hopes that the sport will gain “more players, more teams, more fans, and more games, in more places of the world. And maybe one day if we can afford it- flying brooms.”

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