Magical Muggle Quidditch: Harry Potter Broomstick Sport Sweeping the Real World

Ryerson Quidditch - snitch runnerPhoto: Ryerson Quidditch
A Ryerson University snitch runner

Some sports have fairly humble beginnings. Basketball began in the late 19th century as a way for YMCA students to enjoy physical activity without having to go outside in the winter. American football, on the other hand, evolved from rugby played by British colonists and the British military. So when we witness the birth of new sports like chess boxing and toe wrestling, we should remember that just because something hasn’t caught on yet, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to get big sometime in the future. On that note, when you hear about a bunch of players running around a field with broomsticks between their legs as they try to pass “quaffles” through hoops, don’t be judgmental. Quidditch is a perfectly valid sport.

Ryerson University QuidditchPhoto: Ryerson Quidditch
Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada added quidditch to its extra-curricular program in 2010

In case you’re unfamiliar with the magical game, quidditch is a – formerly – fictional team sport dreamt up by British author J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter saga. In the books, players zoom around the field on broomsticks while balls are bewitched to move autonomously. And if you’re not sure how something that involves flying on magical brooms and chasing spellbound balls around could ever be adapted for play in the real world, then just keep on reading.

As in many sports, the goal of Quidditch is to score the most points by the end of the game. The interesting part is that victory can be achieved in one of two ways: by throwing a “quaffle” (a type of ball) through a set of hoops more times than the other team, or by catching the “Golden Snitch.” In the Harry Potter stories, the Snitch is a small, flying – and apparently intelligent – ball that darts around the field at incredible speeds. Each team has a “seeker,” whose sole purpose is to catch the Snitch, and when this happens, 150 points are awarded to the team that accomplishes this feat and the game ends.

Texas University QuidditchPhoto: cannonball89
Quidditch players at the University of Texas

Due to the high number of points awarded for catching the Snitch, it usually means the team that captures it will be victorious – unless the other team is more than 150 points ahead. Oh, and while all this is occurring, two “bludgers” (a more aggressive type of ball) zoom around the field attempting to dislodge players from their broomsticks. Players known as “beaters” have to protect their team members and try to smash the heavy bludgers the way of opposing players.

CU Quidditchers prepare for the Quidditch World CupPhoto: Carleton University
Carleton University quidditchers practice ahead of the 2010 Quidditch World Cup.

For non-magical athletes, this all translates into one of the most insane-looking spectator sports ever realized. Dodgeballs are used as bludgers, and volleyballs are the real-world versions of quaffles. All players grip broomsticks precariously between their legs, and a living “snitch runner” (remember the Golden Snitch?) with a tennis ball in a sock tucked into their waist tries to elude capture within the preset boundaries.

Lest you’re one of those skeptics who thinks that quidditch is just some flash-in-the-pan craze, you should know that the sport has been played by enthusiasts since it was first adapted for the real world at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005. In fact, the International Quidditch Association (IQA) was founded two years later. Today, students from over 1,000 colleges and high schools have petitioned the IQA to found their own official teams. What’s more, Quidditch fever has spread so far that in 2012, overwhelmed by the number of teams, the IQA staged regional championships across three continents to determine who would compete in that year’s Quidditch World Cup.

Texas A&M pursues an LSU chaserPhoto: Rachel Ortego via Wikipedia
A Texas A&M University player pursues a Louisiana State University chaser.

If you’d like to catch a game but don’t live near any of the official teams (as of 2012 there were at least 175), don’t worry: in January 2013, real-world quidditch was broadcast for the first time on cable television – so it probably won’t be too long before you can watch a game on ESPN (or at least ESPN2).