Blood on a Broomstick

Intercollegiate Quidditch is not just for Potter fanatics

I have a confession to make: I stopped reading the Harry Potter series halfway through book five. That alone wouldn’t be so shocking, if not also for this: I’m on the Harvard Quidditch Team. Somehow, though, my lack of expertise (I haven’t picked up any of the books in six years) hasn’t affected my enjoyment of the game one bit. Incredibly, collegiate Quidditch stands extremely well on its own as an actual sport—and is remarkably enjoyable even if you don’t remember who or what the hell “Cedric Diggory” is.

The first thing most people probably think of when they hear of Quidditch is role-playing, thereby relegating the sport to the “nerd” bin with the likes of “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Magic: The Gathering.” It is true that the sport, founded in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont (and the origin of the modern 200-plus-team Intercollegiate Quidditch League), incorporates the rules of the fictional game as literally as possible.

To make up for a lack of flight, for example, all players must carry a broom between their legs at all times. Chasers run down the field with the Quaffle (a volleyball) while attempting to evade other Chasers, Beaters throwing Bludgers (dodgeballs), and the Keeper (that’s me) to score a goal through the opposing team’s hoops. In the meantime, off the field, Seekers fight to catch the Snitch, a neutral player dressed in a gold track suit who is allowed to run anywhere on the college campus. A goal is worth 10 points, and the Snitch, if and when it is finally captured, is worth 30. At first glance, this is nothing more than harmless little Potter fans playing out their fantasies.

But don’t be fooled. The sport is anything but tame.

The brooms serve as a handicap, since there are so few restrictions on contact between players. Hair-pulling and neck-grabbing are forbidden, but slide-tackling, body-checking, tripping, and shoulder-checking are all fair game. The Snitch has even fewer restrictions. According to the official rulebook, the Snitch “may do whatever it takes to avoid capture within the realm of common sense and morality,” which in past games has included throwing mud into players’ eyes and headbutting them to the ground. Play only stops for a foul, there is no out-of-bounds area, and there is no clock. The game ends with the capture of the Snitch, and until then no one is safe from a surprise tackle or body slam.

The result is sheer, brutal anarchy, an absurd and ludicrous hybrid of rugby, dodgeball, basketball, and soccer. Serious injuries abounded among other teams at the Middlebury Quidditch World Cup this past October. One player from Emerson College broke a Chaser’s clavicle, another team’s Beater broke a few fingers, and rumor has it that in a past year’s tournament one player robbed a girl of her cornea. There may truly be no better two words to describe the appeal of the game than those of a Crimson reporter: “badass mayhem.”

Indeed, after playing the game for over a month, you come to realize that the thrill of winning a bloody fight for the Quaffle or firing a direct shot through an opponent’s hoop is not the inner Potter geek giddying with glee. It’s the instinctive drive for glory. It’s the extraordinary spirit of this unbelievable game, the utter bliss of pugilism, crusading to crush the opposing team into submission. This is the ultimate agony and ecstasy of intercollegiate Quidditch. And no magical knowledge, fortunately, is required to enjoy it.

Avishai D. Don ’12, a Crimson editorial comper, is a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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