October 21, 2010

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Quidditch: It’s not just for wizards

Tom Weigel (left) of Chestnut Hill College and his broom in last Saturday’s Quidditch Tournament.

Wizards, seekers, keepers and chasers roamed the soccer fields on broomsticks at Chestnut Hill College last Saturday afternoon and competed in the first “Brotherly Love Cup,” a regional intercollegiate Quidditch tournament in which competitors play a real seven-on-seven version of the game played by Harry Potter and company in J.K. Rowling’s novels.

In the books the characters fly around on broomsticks, seeking a golden ball and compete against wizards and other fantastical characters in tournaments.

But, on college campuses in the U.K. and across the U.S., chasers (students) run around with brooms between their legs and at times knock into each other as if it were rough-touch football. They score goals by throwing and passing quaffles (volleyballs), while avoiding being hit with bludgers (dodgeballs) by the keepers through three different hoops between four and six-feet high.

According to a number of college newspapers like the Stanford Daily, and an online site for Wellesley College, the sport is spreading fast and in clusters.

More than 100 players made up more than 10 teams from seven different colleges (CHC, Vassar College, Villanova University, Penn State University, University of Maryland, Stony Brook University, Christopher Newport University), and about 150 spectators gathered to watch the fantasy-to-reality tournament unfold.

“I was in a broomstick race earlier, and it’s actually really hard to run,” said CHC sophomore Nicole Ehrhardt, a lacrosse player and elementary special education major who said a number of her friends were on Quidditch teams (five CHC teams entered the tournament). And, Ehrhardt added, the girls’ lacrosse team did a bake sale at the event to raise money.

“I like it because it’s a combination of sports like basketball, and football and lacrosse,” said Michael Parada, a PSU sophomore and electrical engineering major and a New Jersey resident who said he found out about the game through his friend, the captain of the Villanova Quidditch team.

The Villanova team won Saturday’s tournament and received a bronze painted statue, about a foot tall that featured classic Philly symbols like the LOVE Park sign.

Parada’s description is nearly complete. But to expand it, add co-ed dodge ball, a bit of manic energy – four balls can fly across the same field at a time – and the fact that some competitors wear capes, an accessory that has not really been featured in competitive sport since jousting.

In the movie, the snitch is a golden ball sought by the seeker. But in the real-life version, each team has a member (often a cross-country runner) dressed in gold from head-to-toe who is free to roam the entire campus. The opposing team’s seeker tries to catch the snitch, which concludes the game and gives 30 extra points to the team that catches the opposing snitch first.

Muggle (the word for non-magical people in Harry Potter, used because its players are only humans, not young wizards like Harry himself) Quidditch originated in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont and has since infiltrated 400 colleges and 300 high schools with teams in the United States and more than 13 countries that are a part of the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA) membership.

“The game has a universal appeal,” said the event’s organizer, Max Kaplan, a CHC senior English/communications major and IQA social media director who helped found CHC’s Quidditch program. Kaplan has run a CHC-only tournament for the past two years and decided to open the competition to other schools this year.

CHC will also be one of more than 57 teams competing in this year’s Intercollegiate Quidditch World Cup taking place November 13-14 at De Witt Clinton Park, 52nd Street and 11th Avenue, New York City.

“You have athletes who love the competitive aspect of the game, and you have some kids who have never stepped on an athletic field who love the novelty of the game,” Kaplan said. “I saw a YouTube video a couple of years ago and said, ‘We have to do this’ – plus, our school looks like Hogwarts [the school in Harry Potter].”

The tournament even brought in some visitors from Raleigh, N.C.

“Of all the things to do while we are in Philadelphia, we are here because my son heard there was a Quidditch tournament in town and he loves it,” Sharon Lubkin said. “He wanted to come. He just joined his high-school Quidditch team.”

“It’s not like any other sport,” said Nathan Lasala, Lubkin’s son who was taking pictures and recording the event from the bleachers using his cell phone. “I usually like individual sports like archery.”

“I thought the whole thing was a bit weird at first,” said Debbie Reif, who drove about 90 minutes from Central Jersey to support her daughter who was playing for CHC. “But it’s really a nice thing to do. It’s real organized. I’m actually getting a kick out of it.”


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