Quidditch players find their own magic in Harry Potter game
Beaters, bludgers, seekers and snitches!
This might sound like gibberish to you, and if it does, you’re one of the few Earthlings who hasn’t read the Harry Potter book series or seen the movies.
The rest of you, however, know exactly what those magical words signify: the rip-roaring, high-flying, full-contact sport of quidditch, a game invented by author J.K. Rowling to serve as a cornerstone in the lives of the young wand-wielding students in her series.
Think “Friday Night Lights,” but replace football, drama and a Texas high school with quidditch, drama and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
But quidditch isn’t a sport for just wizards, anymore.
Regular people are grabbing broomsticks and makeshift quaffles and are hurtling them through goal hoops on a field near you.
These upstart muggle quidditch teams, popping up at colleges and community centers across the country, have turned the fictional game into a major intramural sport, one with an official governing council, an official rule book and a major championship: the U.S. Quidditch Cup.
Wait. Real people — adults — are actually going outside to play quidditch?
It might sound like laughable fandom, but this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan trend. The 2018 championship, scheduled for April, will be the 11th annual.
And the U.S. Quidditch organization boasts more than 130 teams, with names ranging from the Tufts University Tufflepuffs in Boston to the Crimson Elite in Salt Lake City.
But if you want to see a bunch of landlocked muggles attempt quidditch, you don’t need to go to Utah. Just check out the Fruita Middle Quidditch Club for sixth- and seventh-graders, started last year by teacher J.G. Bonner.
On a Friday afternoon in September on a field outside Fruita Middle School, play begins:
“Blue team, are you ready?”
“Red team, are you ready?”
The brooms are perhaps the most challenging and uproarious part of muggle quidditch. Each player must hold a broom, or at least an imitation broom, between his or her legs throughout play.
Broom guidelines are specific, according to the U.S. Quidditch rule book. They must be rigid and made of wood or plastic, between 32 and 42 inches long and free of splinters and sharp points.
Members of the Fruita Middle Quidditch Club use PVC piping as brooms — the piping is wrapped in colored tape that signifies the broom-holder’s field position — and they are made by Bonner, whose passion for quidditch drives the club.
When a team’s seven players are called to action, they mount their brooms and grab for the quaffle (aka volleyball) or one of the three bludgers (dodgeballs).
Three players in the “chaser” positions try to get the quaffle through the opposing team’s goal hoops — hula hoops atop PVC piping — while the player in the “keeper” position tries to defend the goals.
Two players in the “beater” positions use the bludgers to tag members of the opposite team, forcing them out for a temporary rest just off the field.
If you are familiar with quidditch, you know these rules are fairly similar to the rules of magical quidditch from the Harry Potter series.
But there are some critical differences mainly because of a lack of magic.
The bludgers aren’t flying dangerously through the air of their own volition and the snitch isn’t a winged golden orb.
Instead the snitch is a tennis ball in a sock hanging from the belt of a neutral team member who runs through the field of play. The player in the “seeker” position can snatch the snitch in order to win the game for his or her team.
Oh, and no one is actually flying, of course, in muggle quidditch. That’s a major difference.
But no one minds.
“I like that it’s very fun,” said Karly Howell, 13, who’s captain of The Grim team for the quidditch club. “And it’s from a mythical book, so it’s not a normal sport.”
Karly likes the Harry Potter books and heard about the popular college-campus quidditch teams and thought it would be “cool” to play.
As a team captain, she gets to learn better communication skills, she said, and she really appreciates the “Title 9 3/4” rule by the U.S. Quidditch organization, which declares that each team of six may have only four players who identify as the same gender.
This rule aims to ensure an equal amount of play for team members, regardless of gender.
Bonner said the 9 3/4 rule is important to him, too, as part of the inclusivity that led him to form the club.
While he read the Harry Potter books as “prep” just before the first season began, he learned of quidditch while attending the University of Texas, which won the sixth, seventh and eighth national quidditch championships.
“I wanted something the sixth-graders could be part of, and I wanted something girls could be a part of,” Bonner said about starting the club.
Although the Fruita Middle team is technically “kidditch,” what enthusiasts call teams composed of kindergarten through 12th-grade players, Bonner said his club aims for official play.
“We try to abide by the U.S. Quidditch rule book,” said Bonner, adding that he mixes up the teams in order to abide by the 9 3/4 rule as much as possible, which is difficult on days when fewer than the usual 20–25 kids show up.
The U.S. Quiddditch organization refers to kidditch as a “major initiative.” Though they suggest younger players follow the same game rules, the organization recommends appointing an adult adviser, playing on a 3/4-sized field, as well as enforcing strict contact-free play.
Fruita Middle’s practice, however, seemed in no way watered down.
Participants ran atop their broomsticks at full speed, energetic and fierce, shouldering into each other, shouting and gesticulating with their free hands, trying to score points and protect their teammates.
“I like the fact that you get to throw stuff at other people and not get in trouble for it,” said Nand Patel, an eighth-grader who returns to Fruita Middle for practice on Fridays.
Nand hadn’t read any of the Harry Potter books before joining the quidditch team as a seventh-grader, but he was still drawn to the quidditch.
“I found it an interesting sport since I have nothing else to do with my time,“Nand said nonchalantly.
He doesn’t play any other active sports, but he’s in the chess club and likes to play Minecraft and Terraria video games when he’s not on the quidditch pitch.
Nand was a superstar beater on the Horntails team that won the Fruita Middle championship in May. He humbly refers to himself as a “legend.”
Its unique ability to draw students such as Nand, who might otherwise stay indoors, is one of the reasons Bonner believes in quidditch and supports it so strongly.
“It gives an hour to kids who would never play a sport,” said Bonner, who buys and builds most of the equipment himself, although he has gotten some goods donated from the Fruita Co-Op and wants to form more relationships around town with businesses that could sponsor the club.
Bonner had T-shirts made, specialty jerseys and winter scarves that other teachers and students can buy to show their support.
Bonner would like quidditch to remain a club sport rather than an official athletics sport, in which boys and girls would be separated on teams and there would be more rigmarole in general. He wants it to be as open and gender-inclusive as possible.
He also is working to get other schools and teachers interested in quidditch so there will be more opportunities for competition and events.
As a result, Bonner has had a little luck spurring local quidditch excitement. Last Thursday, the Fruita Middle Quidditch Club went to Orchard Mesa Middle School to teach students there how to play and to encourage interested in quidditch.
Quidditch, like other youth sports, seems to give important learning opportunities to the students who participate.
Seventh-grader Hannah Gregory joined the team for the first time this year after hearing about it in one of Bonner’s classes.
Like Nand, she enjoys the physical aspects of the game and it reminds her of soccer, which she also plays.
“It’s a lot like that, because you have to be aggressive,” she said. “I like how I get to hit people with the dodgeballs.”
Though nailing a friend with a rubber bludger might be the treat that lures students to the game, those who stick with it end up getting a lot more out of it.
Karly said she’s learning important skills as a team captain, which means she must manage her teammates and plan game play, and she is trying to organize fundraising initiatives to help the quidditch club make it to a championship in Indiana in July to which the club was invited.
Bonner also knows he’ll have to “ramp up” his efforts to garner support for the club to make it to the championship, but he’s undaunted. In the meantime, there is plenty of quidditch to play.
“I want the kids to have fun,” he said, “and I want the kids to be included.”