Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wait, There's Really a Quidditch Team?

In last month's article about the potential renaming of Witchcraft Heights Elementary School in Salem, Massachusetts, I had some fun at the expense of a Salem school board member whose comments suggested he was worried that with "witchcraft" in the name people might confuse the school with something out of Harry Potter.

Wait a minute. Is this guy serious? Because it sounds like what he's saying here is that with "witchcraft" in the name people are going to get the school confused with Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and show up looking to try out for the Quidditch team or asking how to get to the Gryffindor common room.

Well, according to this article from Salon, the joke is on me. Because people really do play Quidditch, even though I doubt Witchcraft Heights has a team. Seriously, they run around chasing "snitches" and "bludgers" with brooms held between their legs!

Welcome to the wild and weird sport of Muggle Quidditch, where boundary lines are suggestions, four balls are in play at any given time, and every player -- except for the elusive golden Snitch -- dashes about with large, bristly broomsticks held mid-thigh. Six years ago, the game was just a cool idea hatched by a group of students at Vermont's Middlebury College; today, there are more than 700 teams on high school and college campuses worldwide. Adapted from the high-flying sport popularized in the Harry Potter books and movies, the earthbound version boasts a governing body (the International Quidditch Association); a smart, funny magazine (the Monthly Seer); a World Cup competition, which, last year, drew 20,000 spectators; and an ever-expanding base of players and fans from San Diego to Seoul.

Of course, in the real world brooms don't fly so it appears that their only function is to make the players look ridiculous as they run up and down the field. But otherwise players have tried to duplicate the sport as portrayed in the books and movies as closely as possible, including the hard-hitting action seen in the films.

After the brooms, the first thing one notices about the sport is just how fast and physical it can be. Here at the Western Cup, a player got hit so hard it knocked out his contact lenses. Another collided brow to brow with an opponent, resulting in a broken nose and a nasty gash that required four stitches. At the 2010 World Cup in New York City, six players went to the hospital for injuries ranging from a dislocated ankle and a concussion to cracked ribs and a broken collarbone -- and that year's Cup had nothing on 2009, injury-wise. "I think there are some players that would like to see less physical contact," says Alex Benepe, the IQA's commissioner and CEO. "I have definitely not heard players clamoring for more physical contact, I'll put it that way."

As more teams have gotten in on the action, the league is considering changes intended to limit injuries and make the game safer to play. The thing is, when J.K. Rowling proposed the sport in the first place it was with the tacit assumption that fantasy-novel wizards would be standing by to heal injuries, cushion falls, and so forth. So the result is that if players adhere to the style of play narrated in the books injuries are probably inevitable. And unlike in the Wizarding World, they can't be healed overnight with a bottle of Skele-grow.

Even with the planned changes, Quidditch will always be a game of bumps, bruises and worse. The sport is full contact, as "chasers" try to hurl a quaffle (a volleyball) through mounted hoops, while other players toss bludgers (kickballs) at the chasers. The "keeper" -- part goalie, part basketball center -- blocks shots, or tackles would-be shotmakers. The game ends when a "seeker" snatches a sock tucked into the back of the Snitch's shorts, which sounds easy, except the Snitch is typically quick as a hornet -- most are cross-country runners -- and can wrestle and body slam you, legally, but you can't return the favor. Charges, stiff arms and tackles are allowed, as are bludger fastballs to an opponent's face. "You get style points for a head shot," says Benepe.

There are no real boundary markers on the field either, so tackles and scrums often take place amid clusters of fans trying to get out of the way of battling players. As for the Snitches, they aren't bound by any rules, other than ones of "common sense" and human decency. The rule book says they should try not to slam into spectators, but just about anything else goes. "I've seen Snitches climb buildings, take off on bicycles, steal things from players," says Benepe. "They kind of have a blank check."

This is rapidly turning into one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of. I know, it was dumb to start out with, but can you think of any other sport where the players chase each other through bleachers full of fans? Swinging around brooms for good measure! If this sport ever rises to the popularity that soccer enjoys in Europe can you imagine the riots? The whole point of being able to pass over spectators in Harry Potter Quidditch is that you're flying, not running along at the same level and bowling them over.

Of course, if some enterprising sorcerer or inventor ever does come up with a real flying broom it sounds like most of these kids will be either dead or incapacitated by the end of the first playing season thereafter. Just sayin'!

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Turnsteel said...

Is it brain smartingly stupid? Yes.

If they put it on television would I watch it? Everyday. But I like watching stupid hurt other stupid.

Scott Stenwick said...

You're not alone. Putting this on TV would probably get good ratings, between the Harry Potter fans who would be glued to the set and those of us who would watch out of sheer mockery.

Quidditch-themed reality show, anyone?