Thousands of nerdy athletes convened in New York City for the Quidditch World Cup at Dewitt Clinton Park in New York City this past weekend.
Quidditch is a sport for fictional athletes at the Hogwarts School of Warcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter book series. The literary creation is now played in real life at hundreds of colleges and high schools internationally. In this year's World Cup, Canadian and American colleges (and a few high schools) sent 45 teams of nearly 800 individuals. Private universities like Harvard and Yale competed with the likes of Texas A&M and the Canadian college Ryerson.
“We were the smallest team out here this weekend. We only had seven people,” said Ryerson University’s Chaser Suraj Singh. “Our keeper couldn’t get his passport in time.”
“But everyone wants the sport to be better,” said Kate Millet, 19, also on the Ryerson team. “After we lose, other teams have been coming up to us and teaching us how to be better.”
Yes, this is for real. DeWitt Clinton Park was sectioned into four ovular fields where remaining teams competed on Sunday in single elimination matches. Announcer duos conjured Harry Potter characters Fred and George Weasley with witticisms like “you can’t beat this beater.”
Citius Altius Fortius
What other sport has its roots in literature? Adapted for the Muggle world by Middlebury College student Xander Manshel in 2005, Quidditch still retains key elements from Rowling’s version. Each team consists of seven players–three beaters, two chasers, one seeker and one keeper.
But instead of flying on Nimbus 2000 brooms, players run with a broomstick held awkwardly between their legs. It all looks very confusing, but remember, this is the generation raised when the books were at peak popularity.
Christopher Chan, 20, is a seeker for the U-Mass Amherst Quidditch team. He explains Quidditch as a combination of multiple sports. “Your main game is similar to rugby. You have a volleyball, also known as the quaffle, to throw through three hoops for ten points.” The beaters are the defenders, and their game is similar to dodge ball. “If you’re hit by a ball you run back to the goal post.”
In J.K. Rowling’s Quidditch, the snitch was a magical flying ball that, as seeker, Harry Potter had to find. But in our Muggle world, catching the snitch is a bit like a game of tag, and the snitch often brought comedic relief to the fans.
“People often find out about Quidditch because a dude in gold tights sprints by,” said Mathieu Gregoire, a student at Texas A&M.
Dressed in gold and trailed by two seekers and a referee, the sprinting snitch ran through the playground, sat in stands amidst spectator’s snickers, and climbed the 20-foot high surrounding chain link fence. Catching the snitch is worth 30 points, and ends the game.
But the snitch has to be a neutral player. “Not a problem,” said Christopher Chan. “We normally contact the running club.”
Much like the "Boy Who Lived," the magical sport created by J.K. Rowling is gaining legitimacy. NPR recently reported that the University of Maryland Quidditch team is petitioning for NCAA status, which would both increase the legitimacy and intensity of the sport. That, or decrease the legitimacy of the NCAA.
Most students were hesitant to embrace NCAA certification. “There are pros and cons,” said Christopher Chan. “We would see more serious players and I’m not sure that has a place. It would be sports for sports sake. Would they change the rules and get rid of the brooms? Because I think brooms are essential.”
Laura Budd, a 21-year-old Middlebury beater, is undecided. “Quidditch started on a whim as a way to work off your hangover on a Sunday morning. You can be silly like kids. It could lose its magic.”
“It would definitely help Quidditch teams get in touch and compete,” said Mathieu Gregoire. “We don’t get funding, and some of us had to pay $600 to come this weekend.”
“But,” added Gregoire, “I’m not looking forward to the day when football players join.”
Although players are committed to the athleticism of Quidditch, the cult of Potter reigns supreme. Latin phrases, be-spectacled teenagers, witch hats, and capes were commonplace in the stands. Teams adopted nicknames from Rowling’s characters such as the "Transylvania Animagi," "Harvard Horntails", "Butterbeer BrOOOers," and "VCU Wizengamot."
“I got 99 problems but a snitch ain’t one,” read one t-shirt. On another: “Because Hogwarts didn’t accept the FAFSA.”
The Repello Muggletum spell was not used.