Breaking The Rules

Photos by Jemma Paradise

Adapted from its magical beginnings, quidditch has exploded across America’s college campuses.  But how far can this quirky game grow in the mainstream muggle world?

Can quidditch grow beyond the bounds of J.K. Rowling’s fantasy? Born from the beloved tale of Harry Potter, this high-flying game is emerging as a popular muggle pastime, albeit at a slightly lower altitude than its magical predecessor. Trading black capes for sports- wear and flying brooms for PVC pipes, its new form is the ultimate cross of fandom and athleticism, developed by a generation that grew up immersed in the wizarding world.

“I loved the books,” says Kobe Bryant, captain of Anteater Quidditch, the team from University of California, Irvine. Like the majority of his fellow collegiate players, his interest in the sport sparked from a fondness for the fantasy series.

However, quidditch has evolved beyond its bookworm’s delights, incorporating a  degree of competitive rigor characteristic of far more mainstream athletic pursuits. To the viewer’s eyes, its proceedings look like the intersection of rugby, tag, and hobby-horsing, complete with tackling and flying dodgeballs. “There’s an enormous amount going on, because you effectively have three games going on at the same time, and they all interlock,” says UCI senior Timothy Conner.

Translated for those unfamiliar with the game’s magical archetype, a team’s chasers (the offense) score points by throwing the quaffle (now a volleyball) through one of three hoops, defended by their rival’s keeper (a goalie). Meanwhile, the beaters (the defense) shower the opposing chasers with dodgeballs, of which the penalty for a successful blow is broom disembarkation (essentially a time-out, where the player must tag his/her home hoops before returning to the game).

As for the game-deciding snitch, the quid- ditch community has devised a creative alter- native to the bewitched, notorious golden ball of Potter lore: a third-party person dressed in yellow from head-to-toe, released on the field upon the 18th minute of play. The first seek- er to catch this human snitch (by retrieving a tail attached to the snitch’s waistband) wins 30 points for his/her team and concludes the game. With this complicated interplay, it’s no wonder UCI Quidditch’s motto, “turning nerds into jocks and jocks into nerds since 2013,” seems so fitting.

Real-life quidditch hasn’t always been athletically focused. Adapted by Middlebury College students in 2005, its first matches were contested by cape-clad players on cos- tume-worthy, wooden brooms. However, given its roots in college culture, the game’s initial absurdity soon transformed into a bizarre competition of intelligence and strategy. “Since it’s a brand-new sport, people are learning for the first time how to develop

techniques for offense and defense,” says UCI junior Rachel Ramirez. “In the beginning, they would do a V-formation like how ducks fly, and nowadays, people would never try to do that. People are starting to learn what works and what doesn’t work.” With each overstep of strategy, the muggle rules of quidditch also evolve, expanding in the name of a fair play. In the latest rulebook from US Quidditch (the US’s quidditch governing body), its mind-blowing 187 pages detail everything from broom regulations to the proper conduct of the human snitch.

Yet despite its complexity, quidditch has a singular guiding principle, one that far out- shines its budding competitive side – as a game created by and for a loving fandom, it values its inclusivity above all else. “When I saw it at college, and one of my roommates played it, I thought, okay, I’m going to try that sport,” recalls Emily Provenzano, who played throughout her UCI years and now continues her involvement in a local Orange County team. “What people stay for, though, is the community.”

In particular, the game provides a supportive space for people across the gender spectrum, enshrining the integrity of its unique mixed teams with inclusive rules based on personal identification. Under the embrace of its welcoming values, quidditch gives its players the chance to bond over their love for a sport and the magical story behind it, forming a comradery that extends far beyond the outcome of a match.

With all the eloquence of an author, J.K. Rowling perfectly captures the quintessence of quidditch in a recent tweet. “It makes total sense,” she declares. “There’s glamour in chasing an elusive lucky break, but teamwork and persistence can still win the day. Everyone’s vulnerable to blows of fate and obstructive people, and success means rising above them. Quidditch is the human condition.” Yet even though its muggle version mirrors the values of modern society, will quidditch be a mainstream game of the future? Anteater Quidditch certainly believes so. “I definitely think it will with time,” says freshman Olivia Forte. “If it gets enough support, it will grow.”