The Rise of Quidditch

Image courtesy of John Loo (Flickr Creative Commons)

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997, quidditch was nothing more than a fantastical sport that involved young witches and wizards flying on broomsticks and scoring points by throwing a leather ball through gold rings. But in 2005, all of that changed when the first official game of quidditch in the United States was held at Middlebury College in Vermont. Students showed up to play wearing capes made from towels and ran around the field on broomsticks, one particular student made do with a lamp instead of a broom.

Today, eleven years later, the sport is gaining in popularity throughout the states. Almost 200 teams nationwide are registered with US Quidditch (USQ), the national governing body for the sport that serves over 4000 athletes. And it is continuing to grow, especially in the city of Boston.

What is Quidditch?

“Quidditch is a full-contact, coed sport,” says Kara Levis, the General Manager for Boston’s Major League Quidditch (MLQ) team, the Boston Night Riders, and the Northeast Regional Coordinator for US Quidditch (USQ). She’s played the sport for six years, starting in the fall of 2009 as a college freshman at UCLA, and for the past two years she’s been playing for a community team in Boston called the Quidditch Club, or QC Boston. “The sport is a weird mix of rugby, dodgeball and tag,” says Levis, “And it’s generally welcome to people from all walks of life, no matter their skill set.”

Each quidditch team consists of seven players on the field at a time, and each player is required to maintain a PVC, or plastic, pipe between their legs during gameplay, mimicking a broomstick. Their objective is to score goals worth ten points each until “the snitch” is captured, a ball that is attached to the waist of a neutral player. The snitch is worth thirty points and capture usually signifies the end of a game unless the score is tied, in which the game proceeds into overtime.

Leagues

In Boston there are several different leagues a player can participate in according to Samuel Scarfone, the Commissioner of the Emerson College Intramural League and a player on the Emerson College competitive team.

“The Emerson Intramural League, or Emerson House League, is an open, inclusive league to anyone in the greater Boston area who is enrolled in a degree granting program,” says Scarfone. The Emerson Intramural League consists of six teams — the Park Street Pulverizers, the Boylston Berserkers, the South End Slothbears, the Faneuil Falcons, the Jamaica Plain Jaguars, and the Old North Outlaws. During the school year, these teams play each other, leading up to a big tournament at the end of the year. “This league is a great way to introduce people to quidditch,” says Scarfone. “And its non-physical as we don’t allow tackling. The only requirement is that a player attends a university in Boston. You don’t have to go to Emerson College to participate in the Emerson House League.”

Another league is the USQ league, or US Quidditch, which is composed of 200 teams throughout the United States that are registered with USQ. In Boston, there is Boston University Quidditch, Emerson College Quidditch, the Harvard Horntails, and the Tufts University Tufflepuffs. Typically teams are college based, however, in Boston there is also an adult community team registered with USQ called the Quidditch Club, or QC Boston. It is composed largely of college graduates and alumni. “Playing for a USQ league team is more physical,” says Scarfone. “You play other schools in the area and it is way more competitive.”

The third league is Major League Quidditch, or MLQ, and the Boston-based team is called the Boston Night Riders. “MLQ does city based teams,” says Levis. “For example, there is the Boston Nightriders and the New York Titans. MLQ teams are grounded in the city and pull from all of the colleges in one area with the sole purpose of being the best and proving that that city, opposed to a single college or team, is worthy of a championship title.”

According to Levis, USQ and MLQ are founded on different principles. USQ is designed to be more inclusive in hopes of growing the sport. “MLQ is developing far beyond that,” says Levis. “It is really laying the groundwork for quidditch to become a professional sport and a professional organization.”

How has the sport has changed?

Since the start of the sport in 2005, quidditch has evolved from being a fun, Harry Potter based activity to a more competitive and highly respected sport, with changes occurring to the rule book and the overall player attitude.

Ethan Sturm, the co-founder of MLQ, played quidditch since his sophomore year of college at Tufts University in 2010, and currently plays for QC Boston. Sturm says, “Quidditch started off as a very whimsy sport and it will always have that tie to Harry Potter, but now it’s much more balanced. And the rules have changed to make it more enjoyable for spectators.”

Leeanne Dillmann, a player for the New York Titans, agrees that there’s been this shift away from a Harry Potter focus. “There’s been this transition from people playing quidditch because they’re Harry Potter fans to people playing for the athletic and competitive aspects of the sport,” says Dillmann. “The level of competition has risen and physically, players are a lot more in shape.”

When thinking about actual gameplay changes, Lindsay Geller, a recent graduate of Emerson College who played quidditch for three and a half years, says the biggest change she’s seen has to do with the snitch. “There used to be off-snitch games and now there are only on-snitch games,” Geller says. “As part of the Emerson College intramural team, we used to play on the Boston Common, and when there were off-snitch games the snitch, who is usually a cross country runner, would run off the playing field and could literally go anywhere in Boston as long as they came back after a certain amount of time. But that was kind of ridiculous, especially for the spectators, and now there is only on-snitch games, which means the snitch stays on the field.”

Levis, who has been involved with quidditch long enough to have seen the first rule book, remembers when capes were mandated. “It wasn’t just because capes were fun,” says Levis. “But it was actually a part of the uniform. Now they’re just laughable.”

Levis explains that since the first rulebook, brooms have been replaced with PVC pipes and mouth guards are required because players started hitting harder. She says, “I’ve watched it grow from when there were no community teams to the USQ being dominated by community teams at the competitive level just because you have these players who have been around for years. When I started that simply was not possible because the sport was just so brand new.”

There’s also been a growth in the fanbase, according to Geller. She remembers when she first started playing, the people who stopped by to watch games were friends, family or curious tourists who were trying to figure out what was going on. But today, more people are starting to recognize the sport and will come out to games when they know they are occurring. “The internet has helped the sport grow,” says Geller. “There are blogs and podcasts dedicated to quidditch, and I think because millennials are the people playing the sport, they help spread the word.”

Sturm remembers that during last year’s World Cup, the premiere event of the USQ season, somebody reached out Snapchat and asked them to create a USQ Snapchat Event. “The event received over hundreds of thousands of views,” says Sturm. “It was fantastic.”

Why Boston?

Though Quidditch is a national phenomenon and continues to grow throughout the United States, Boston is thought to be the premiere quidditch city in the country, according to Scarfone. He says this not only because the city has several top tier teams but because of the tightness of the community, which Levis agrees is “incredible.”

“I’ve only been in Boston for the past two years,” says Levis. “But during that time I’ve seen a community culture where all of these teams know each other. It’s not really like any other sport that I’m aware of in the sense that anybody on any given day can get together with people from other teams and hangout just to have a good time.”

Levis says this is what makes Boston so special. She says, “You have this hugely condensed quidditch population and they’re able to feed off each other and sort of shape this incredible atmosphere that drives the sport and helps with its growth and development.”

Sidebar:

Who are the players?

  • Chasers — There are three chasers on a team, and their job is to score goals with a volleyball called the quaffle by throwing it through a goal hoop. They can move the ball down the field by running it, passing it to teammates, or kicking it.
  • Keeper — The keeper is essentially the goalie. They defend their goal hoops by trying to prevent the other team from scoring.
  • Beaters — These players use dodgeballs called bludgers to interfere with the flow of the game by “knocking out” other players. If a player is hit with a bludger, they have to run to their team’s goal post and touch it before resuming gameplay.
  • Seeker — The seeker’s objective is to capture the snitch.
  • Snitch — The snitch is a tennis ball attached to the waist of the snitch runner, a neutral athlete whose only goal is to avoid capture. The capture of the snitch usually signifies the end of the game.
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