World Cup Dreams Alive For USF Quidditch
A group of guys trudge up to Sycamore practice fields on a late Monday night, lugging bags of half-deflated volleyballs and kickballs. A few of them are carrying piles of white PVC pipes. Some of the pipes are straight; others are bent into circles. The players start to assemble the pipes into raised circular goals, lamenting the state of their equipment. On a nearby field, the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team stops to watch them, puzzled.
“This is us,” says Gesche Vigh, a 20-year-old psychology major. “This is the USF Quidditch team.”
Founded in January 2011, USF Quidditch is made up of 21 players of various ages, genders, and backgrounds. Most of them USF students, a few are alumni. They are ranked 50th in the world by the International Quidditch Association, the sport’s governing body.
The team is punchy at its first practice back from the South Regional Championships in Rock Hill, S.C. They have just secured their third consecutive World Cup bid, winning three out of five games. This practice serves to get players back in synch, and to strengthen the weaknesses exploited by University of Miami, to whom they suffered both of their defeats.
The first iteration of what became known as Quidditch was designed in 2005 by Xander Manshel, a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, and was modeled after the fictional sport in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. The game, which was originally played with broom hockey brooms and hula-hoops mounted to trashcans, has grown tremendously under the leadership of Manshel’s friend, Alex Benepe.
“Everyone seems to have a slightly different definition of this sport,” Benepe says in an IQA documentary. “That’s what has made me realize that a sport, much like religion or art, is defined by how many people say it’s a sport.”
Benepe founded the IQA in 2007 and formalized the new sport’s rules. Even without the magic, the essence of the original game is still there: the chasers throw quaffles, the beaters throw bludgers, the keepers protect the hoops and the seekers chase the snitch.
Even the practice of riding a broom has been left intact. Awkward at first, riding the broom becomes second nature, explains Blain Falone, a psychology major. Players quickly learn to catch and throw one-handed, and some can at times hold the broom between their legs and play with both hands. At practice, long-time Quidditch players don’t dismount even when a drill is over; most players stay on their brooms to chase down bludgers and quaffles that have gone out of bounds.
However, some of the core elements of the game had to be tweaked to compensate for the lack of magic. For example, in the “Harry Potter” series, the snitch was a small, magically propelled golden ball. In Quidditch, the snitch is a person, dressed in bright yellow, who does not belong to any team and has a tennis ball wrapped in a sock dangling from the back of his or her shorts. The seekers must capture the snitch’s “tail” to end the game.
While the popularity of the sport is due in large part to the “Harry Potter” series, it is not the only reason many players participate. The sport is very competitive, and is a mix of elements from rugby, dodge ball and lacrosse. Players have noticed a recent shift toward the athletic.
“When I went to World Cup V, there were players in capes, and kids dressed as Harry Potter,” Falone says. “But in World Cup VI, there were still kids dressed like that, but just spectators. Never the teams. The teams were there for a sport.”
Part of this change can be credited to the physicality of the sport itself. Quidditch, by nature, is incredibly injury-prone. It’s a full-contact co-ed sport without protective padding, and a concerning majority of games include some kind of injury to a player or a snitch. Falone counted three instances of broken collarbones during the two days of Regionals.
Practices are less intense than games, but no less dangerous. During a drill, Austin “Baustin” Archie, an accounting major, takes a hard knock to the shoulder and doubles over in pain. He clutches his shoulder as other players mill about around him. He walks off the field shaking his head. Later, another player, Corey Nix, was hit with a bludger to the side of his face, leaving his cheekbone bruised and causing a nosebleed. The 18-year-old electrical engineering major had to use his sock to stanch the bleeding, and played the rest of the practice with bloodstains.
While the IQA has made great strides to change Quidditch from a fictional game to a legitimate sport, the nerdy image lingers. Some USF Quidditch players refuse to tell their family and friends that they play. Even Falone, the team’s captain, won’t tell his full-time job why he’s requesting days off.
He’ll need to come up with a good excuse for missing work on the first weekend of April, the date of IQA World Cup VII in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The team is already coordinating fundraising efforts: although the team is officially recognized by the university, players must pay all travel and competition costs up front before being reimbursed.
Falone recalls when World Cup V had been held in New York City. The team had bought the cheapest hotel room it could find and stuffed its 21 players into it, some sleeping on couches and on the floor. That’s not an option this year. The Association, eager for legitimacy within the sports community, is now mandating where each team must stay. It also requires them to buy insurance and pay registration.
“It’s hard on us as college students, paying all this money to go,” Falone says, “but it’s a good sign to where the sport is going – the fact that it’s grown so much to where [the IQA] have to think about these things. It’s a great sign for Quidditch as a sport in general.”
Quidditch positions explained:
Chaser: Each team has three chasers, who try to keep possession of the quaffle (a slightly deflated volleyball) and score a goal worth 10 points by throwing it through an opponent’s hoops. Identified by a white headband.
Beater: Each team’s two beaters protect the rest of the team from bludgers (slightly deflated dodge balls) by hitting them at the opposing team’s players. Identified by a black headband.
Keeper: One keeper protects the team’s goal hoops from quaffles. Identified by a green headband.
Seeker: Each team has one seeker whose job is to catch the snitch. This gives the team 30 points and automatically ends the game. Identified by a yellow headband.