Fire jugglers, Irish dancers, rock bands and an a cappella group entertain the crowd along the sidelines while fireworks light the sky above. On the field, women and men straddling brooms run between goalposts adorned with colourful banners.
This is not an ordinary college sporting event.
On Nov. 11, 2007, with crisp uniforms, equipment and a new scoreboard, the Middlebury Mollywobbles and the Vassar Butterbeer Brewers were set to compete in the third annual Quidditch World Cup.
It all started with a book. Eleven years ago, J.K. Rowling released the first of a series of stories that would redefine children’s literature. After millions of copies sold, some said Harry Potter helped an entire generation of kids to love reading.
“There are people out there who think we’re
ridiculous and I
At Middlebury College in Vermont, a handful of students were inspired to bring a wizard’s sport into reality.
Students Alex Benepe, who runs the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, and Xander Manshel, who outlined the rules, brought fact from fantasy. “At first, we didn’t really have any idea where it would go,” says Benepe. “We just sort of threw it out there for fun and it immediately worked out.”
To bring Potter’s game to life, some changes had to be made from its original literary form. In the stories, players chase a flying ball of gold called the snitch. At Middlebury, players chase a person dressed in yellow who runs with a ball dangling out the back of his or her shorts.
Rainey Johnson, a cross-country runner and wrestler, started the practice of a human snitch. Benepe says Johnson is an ideal choice. “Hes a wrestler, so he’s able to take people down if they get too close to him. He can do handsprings and somersaults and backflips,” he says.
Although the real-life game is played on foot, Quidditch players carry brooms to emulate the characters in the book who use them to fly. Benepe admits it’s a good time but can feel a little silly.
“There are people out there who think we’re ridiculous and I wouldn’t disagree with them,” he says. “I think we are kind of ridiculous – that’s why it’s so fun. I feel like anyone who tries it will love it.”
Benepe’s team actively recruits colleges across the United States to join his league and he gets a number of emails from schools and charities that want to get involved. More than 60 U.S colleges play by Manshel’s rules and teams have even sprouted up in Ottawa, Calgary and St. John’s.
Benepe was pleased to learn that some high school students have started playing as well. “It’s great because it means all these kids who are playing in high schools are playing by our rules,” he says. “So when they come to college they’ll start teams . . . It just sort of shows that the tradition has the ability to last for many years.”
The last “World Cup” demonstrated the potential for a tradition to grow. Not only did the number of teams in the tournament increase from 5 to 12, but it also hosted the first intercollegiate match. The Butterbeer Brewers from Vassar College in New York trekked to Vermont to compete.
Conrad Schott, Vassar student and captain of the Brewers, said his team was well received by Middlebury. “They were extremely organized about everything. It was very fun to have a completely organized and enthusiastic Quidditch environment.”
The contest was a spectacular event for all involved. The only thing missing was Rowling herself, and if Benepe has his way she’ll be guest of honour at next year’s tournament.
Back on the field, Middlebury’s practice paid off, as Benepe says his team won 120- 0. Despite the shutout score, everyone had a great time. “It was a fantastic event,” says Chris Free, player for the Mollywobbles. “It was one of the best days of my life.”