Dec 13, 2012

Quidditch: The Sport of the Digital Age

UT’s varsity quidditch team, currently ranked second in the nation, plays a match. UT has five quidditch teams, a testiment to the popularity of the sport internationally in recent years. Photo courtesy of The Texas Quidditch Team.


By Kelli Ainsworth
For Reporting Texas

The University of Texas students doing lunges, crunches, sprints and agility drills in the large, open field in the shadow of the school’s imposing football stadium looks like any coed, intramural team. They exchange good-natured barbs, rehydrate and swat off the mosquitoes that have swarmed to the slightly damp field at dusk. The scene isn’t an unusual one on the campus of a large university. That is, until the members finish their warmup, pick up their brooms and sit astride them. These students are members of the Ravenclaw House Quidditch team, one of UT’s five quidditch teams.

J.K. Rowling conceived of quidditch for her best-selling Harry Potter series as a soccer-like sport played by wizards riding flying broomsticks. In 2005, students at Middlebury College in Vermont created a real-life version of the sport that could be played by people not fortunate enough to possess enchanted, flying brooms.

Middlebury played the first Quidditch World Cup against Vassar College in 2007. At last year’s World Cup, 100 teams from five nations competed in New York. Since its inception at Middlebury, Quidditch has taken off as a sport in the United States and beyond. There is now a governing body, the International Quidditch Association, which has more than 300 official member teams.

The International Quidditch Association organizes and hosts the annual World Cup, which has grown so popular and elaborate that there are now several qualifying rounds teams must win even to compete in the ultimate event. In only seven years, what started as an experiment by a few fans has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, due in large part to the Internet.

Teams consist of seven people and most maintain a 5-2 gender ratio — either five men and two women or vice versa.  All members have to run while straddling a broom at all times. There are three hoops of varying sizes on each end of the field, and each team tries to toss a ball through one of the hoops of the other team. One team member is assigned to guard the team’s hoops. Three members attempt to score goals, while two members on each team throw dodgeballs at the other team. Players hit by a dodgeball are ineligible until they run to the opposite side of the field and back.

One of the signature elements of quidditch in the Potter series is a flying golden ball, referred to as a snitch. One player on each team attempts to catch the snitch, winning 30 points for their team and ending the match. The real-life equivalent of a snitch is a neutral participant dressed in gold with a small ball in a sock attached to the back of their pants. Matches usually last from 45 minutes to more than an hour, depending on how long it takes for one team to catch the snitch.

While quidditch draws players with varying levels of athletic prowess, good players should have quick reflexes, as the game involves a lot of throwing and catching. They should also be fast and durable runners because play is continuous.

Quidditch has become popular enough for the University of Texas to field five teams. Two teams travel to play at other universities and in regional, national and international tournaments. The other three are intramural teams that take their names Potter dormitory “houses.” Augustine Monroe, co-captain of UT’s varsity traveling team and a member of the Ravenclaw House Team, explains that some players choose their house team based on preferences developed while reading the Harry Potter series, while others simply choose a team whose practice times fits best with their schedule.

People join quidditch teams for a variety of reasons, according to Monroe. “There’s a spectrum of people that play,” Monroe says. “On one end you have people who just love Harry Potter, and they’ve never played any sport in their entire life; then you have people who don’t even know what Harry Potter is, and they get involved because they just like the idea of a new sport after high school.”

At the Ravenclaw quidditch practice, as the team prepares to scrimmage, a straggler arrives. It’s his first practice. Yet the veteran players happily welcome him into their fold and begin the scrimmage.

UT recognized quidditch as a club sport for the first time this fall, giving it a more official status than it’s enjoyed in previous years.  But the sport still doesn’t receive university funding, said Javier Ruiz, a UT senior who has been with the team for four years. Members of the traveling teams are responsible for paying their own way to out-of-town games and tournaments.

Other universities provide some financial backing. Brandi Cannon, captain of Sam Houston State’s quidditch team and Texas representative to the International Quidditch Association, said her university paid part of the team’s travel expenses when it went to New York to play in the Quidditch World Cup last year. This year’s World Cup will be held in Kissimmee, Fla., in April.

Most quidditch players are high school or college students who grew up with the Potter series and the Internet, so the teams rely heavily on an online presence. “Everything is word of mouth,” Ruiz said.

All of Texas’ university quidditch teams communicate information about games, practices and tryouts through social media.  Each school team has a Facebook page, and most have an accompanying Twitter account. At one of the first UT quidditch matches of the year, a local mother who heard about the school’s quidditch team came with her children, dressed in wizard robes, to watch. She heard about the team after hearing a radio interview with a team member and consulted its Facebook page to find out the time and date of the match.

Cannon said the Internet has been an absolutely essential tool in the development and organization of quidditch. As the Texas representative in the International Quidditch Association, she relies on it to recruit Texas high school and college students to form teams. Because of the sport and the web, Cannon said she has friends all over the country and the world.

While many players are enthusiastic Potter fans, Cannon said quidditch is becoming a force of its own, separate from the books and movies that introduced it to the world. The camaraderie is magical, even without flying.

“We’re all friends here,” said Augustine Monroe, co-captain of UT’s varsity team. “I love it.”