Friday, November 26, 2010

Muggle Quidditch: Not for the Faint of Heart

Photo by timstock_nyc

Any real Harry Potter enthusiast has probably dreamed at one time or another of hopping on a broomstick and playing the wizarding world’s coolest game—Quidditch. But it seemed like it would be possible for earthbound Muggles to ever get to enjoy the thrill.

That’s where Xander Manshel comes in. In 2005 while a student at Middlebury College, he came up with the idea for Muggle Quidditch. Xander and his friend Alex Benepe, now the Commissioner of the International Quidditch Association (IQA), spread the word. And these days the game, immortalized in J.K. Rowling’s books, is played by college and high school teams from Boston University to Marin Academy—minus the magical flying bit of course. Clubs are forming as far afield as Australia, South America and Asia, too.

The rules as explained by the Muggle Quidditch—Mississauga Facebook page seem fairly straightforward. There can be between 10 and 14 players on each team, but there must be a minimum of three Chasers, two Beaters, one Keeper and one Seeker. The Beaters toss around three red rubber balls called Bludgers. The Chasers try to score by throwing the Quaffle (actually just a deflated volleyball) through the three rings of the opposing team, while that team’s Keepers try to block the goals.

This is where it gets interesting. Just like with the fictionalized game, the real objective in Quidditch is for the Seeker to catch the Golden Snitch. After all, it’s worth 50 points. This is where earlier earthly Quidditch attempts failed—using personality-less balls or remote control helicopters to stand in for the liveliest component of a magical match.

Manshel had the brilliant idea of giving a Snitch a mind of its own—literally. In the IQA version of the game, the Seeker chases after a free-spirited, cross country runner dressed in a golden track suit. To score the points, the Seeker must pull a tennis ball filled red sock out of the back of the human Snitch’s shorts.

And of course, all the while, the Muggle players must have broomsticks between their legs. They don’t need to be Nimbus 2000s, mind you, simple Rubbermaids will do.

We recently interviewed Adam Spunberg, a Potter and Quidditch enthusiast who lives in New York. Adam has long been a fan of the wizarding series, “To me, J.K. Rowling is like a modern-day Jane Austen—in the YA fantasy genre, of course. (YA means Young Adult).”

That respect for the author and her work led him to seek out like-minded folks in the Big Apple. He told us, “When I moved to New York, I looked for a Harry Potter club and found a really active one called The Group That Shall Not Be Named. My first event was a Triwizard Tournament, which featured Quidditch, spells and skits. I was so curious to see how it would work.”

Although Spunberg doesn’t play with an IQA club, he told us, “I just play for fun, so I'm not really on a team. However, the official team of our group just competed in the Quidditch World Cup and is called the New York Badassalisks. Pretty badass name.” J.K. probably wishes she’d thought of it for one of her books.

And even though he didn’t play in the World Cup, he’s had his own highs and lows on the pitch, Adam recalled, “My best moment was catching the golden snitch… My worst? Realizing I'm ridiculously out of shape when I got exhausted, even though I had played for like five minutes.”

Yes, Quidditch might have been born from a children’s book but don’t kid yourself, this is a full contact, action packed sport. That’s why some people are trying to get it approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Whether co-eds will some day get Quidditch scholarships just like Basketball and Baseball is up for debate.

Spunberg doesn’t see it happening. He predicted, “I don't think Quidditch will ever become an official NCAA sport, but I do think it could gain steam as a club sport, run annually by students.”

The big question is whether or not the game has legs. Adam postulated, “What will be really interesting is to see what happens after the last movie comes out. Will the sport fade as the series slips into the past, or are these books and movies so timeless that it continues to grow? The Harry Potter theme park in Orlando should help.”

If you want to check out the action, visit a Quidditch pitch at a school near you. There are teams currently forming at USC and Santa Monica College. Or take a look at this report from the 2010 Quidditch World Cup.

And we just had to share this Quidditch World Cup trailer created by the IQA, which reinforces the ultimate goal—to catch the golden snitch. Check it out here:

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