Muggle Quidditch through the ages

“Hagrid, what’s Quidditch?”
“It’s our sport. Wizard sport. It’s like — like soccer in the Muggle world — everyone follows Quidditch — played up in the air on broomsticks and there’s four balls — sorta hard ter explain the rules.”

When the Harry Potter series was first published, Quidditch was just another aspect of the books that “Muggles,” defined by J.K. Rowling as a person without magical powers, could not possibly participate in because of their lack of magic.

But in 2005, at Middlebury, a small private college in Vermont, freshman student Xander Manshel decided to try and bypass these restraints and create a Muggle-friendly version of the game.

“I was initially extremely skeptical of the idea, but agreed to try it anyway,” Alex Benepe, friend and former classmate of Manshel, said in an email interview. “[I] instantly fell in love with the game.”

Benepe is the Commissioner of the International Quidditch Association and has been a big part of the preliminary stages of the sport.

“It quickly became a popular intramural sport on our tiny campus [of about] 2,400 students, with more than 10 teams participating,” he said. “In 2006, Xander stopped running the league and appointed me to continue the tradition.”

In the Quidditch world, Benepe is something of a celebrity, not only for his affiliation with the founding of the sport but also for his distinct way of dressing. A quick Google Image search of his name will come up with multiple photographs showcasing his unique style. Clothed in a black dress suit with a striped Gryffindor scarf, Benepe is the essence of style; his head is frequently crowned with an old fashioned top hat while his hand grasps an ornate cane crested with a golden snitch to complete the look.

“In 2007, I grew the club immensely through aggressive recruiting,” Benepe said. “[I] raised money through selling merchandise, and turned the season-end “World Cup” event into a big community festival and invited the only other school with a team, Vassar College, where one of Xander’s friends, Woody Travers, started a team.

“The festival was a huge success with over a thousand attendees and the ensuing intercollegiate expo match was covered on the front page of the Life section in USA today, which led dozens of other schools to contact us and start their own teams,” he added. “I kept all their info on a spreadsheet, which was essentially the start of the league.”

Since then, the sport has become a huge success based on the turnout of last year’s World Cup 5 in New York City, which was held in Icahn Stadium. It was attended by more than 10,000 people and was comprised of 96 teams from 25 states and four countries totaling to 1,600 athletes, and that was just at the competition alone.

In 2008, Middlebury went to seven schools in seven days to host a Spring Break Quidditch expedition at northeastern schools to promote the sport.

“[The expedition] got a ton of press coverage on the CBS morning show, MTV, ESPN and the Boston Globe,” Benepe said. “By the end of the tour, more than 200 schools emailed us with interest to start their own teams.”

The International Quidditch Association (IQA), formerly the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, was founded that same year and is now comprised of 954 teams registered from around the globe. It was formed after the second World Cup, which was hosted at Middlebury and consisted of 12 teams. In 2010 Benepe established the IQA as a non-profit organization.

“The unofficial formation of the league was simply to organize the World Cup and other tournaments for teams, and give them something to rally around and stay in communication, and get more information and promote the sport,” Benepe explained. “We incorporated it as a company so that we didn’t have to depend on one college or another to host things and be the official business name.”

As the character Hagrid claimed, describing the basis of Quidditch to someone who has never heard of it before is difficult. In brief, there are seven players on each team: one keeper, three chasers, two beaters and one seeker. On each end of the field are three hoops at various heights, which are guarded by the keeper. The chasers have to try and get the quaffle (a partially deflated volleyball) through the opposing teams hoops. The beaters job is to throw the bludgers (dodgeballs) at the rival team’s chasers to stop them from scoring.

Once a chaser is hit, the player must drop the quaffle and run back to their goal post before returning to the game. The seeker’s job is to catch the snitch, which, in the Harry Potter series is a tiny golden ball with wings, but in Muggle Quidditch, the snitch is comprised of two parts: the snitch runner and the snitch ball. The snitch runner is usually an individual dressed completely in gold or yellow who has to prevent the seeker from grabbing the snitch ball, which is a tennis ball inside of a long sock and is tucked in the back of the snitch runner’s pants.

The snitch can do almost anything to avoid capture such as ride a bike onto the field, climb a tree or have 100 fake snitches storm the field to confuse the seekers, which have all happened in previous games. Once the snitch is caught, the game is over and the team whose seeker caught the snitch receives 30 points. As Benepe puts it “[Quidditch] is a unique blend of rugby, dodgeball, olympic handball, cross country, soccer and wrestling.”

Both the fantasy and real-life versions of Quidditch have a brutal side, which Fred and George Weasley waste no time tormenting Harry about when he first becomes seeker. Quidditch is in every way a contact sport. The lack of concrete rules outlining what counts as a foul enhances these physical attributes and adds to the overall appeal for the game.

“There were very few rules about physical contact so the game started to get too rough,” Benepe explained. “Since then, we’ve started reigning it in a bit, making the game safer while still maintaining the dynamism and hard-hitting action.”

Hernan Martinez is the Director of Gameplay at the Florida Quidditch Conference (FQC) and was appointed this position when the FQC was first founded almost two years ago. Martinez’s main responsibility is to set up where, when and who each of the Florida teams will be playing. He works closely with Hannah Pohlmann, the Director of Events, to finalize the schedule and format of the games.

“The Conference’s biggest [goal] right now is to set up a feeder pattern by getting high school teams going,” Martinez said. “Then we can have players feeding into our college programs and eventually when people graduate from [those] programs, [we can] set up one or two community teams in the area.”

The FQC was established in order to better organize games and events for Florida Quidditch teams. It was officially founded in Saint Petersburg where a group of ten Quidditch affiliates wrote a constitution for the Conference. Originally, it was comprised of four teams but has since grown to 11 teams from all around Florida.

Jeremy Sparks has been playing for almost two years and is one of the chasers of the University of Florida (UF) Quidditch Team and also the Treasurer for the UF Quidditch Club. The UF Quidditch team was one of the original FQC members when the conference first formed.

“The Quidditch team did an event with the honors program that was called Waffles and Quaffles and that was the first time I ever played,” Sparks said. “I went out, had a lot of fun and I started going to practices and haven’t stopped since.”

The UF Quidditch team placed second last year in the World Cup, losing only to Middlebury, who has won every year. They practice four times a week, two hours a day and play about 15 to 20 games each season.

Ringling College of Art and Design was the first college in Florida to establish an official team in 2007. The current captain of the team, Dan Miller is also the Vice President of the FQC. He has been working closely with the New College Quidditch team, the Fizzing Whizbees, to help the team become more established.

“I played basketball and football in high school and Quidditch is the most fun I’ve had playing a sport that I can think of, so I definitely encourage anyone to try it out.” Miller said.

Miller started playing Quidditch during his freshman year at Ringling in the fall of 2009 and has been the captain of the team for three years. His main duty as Vice President of the FQC is to work with Florida teams to help establish a league and to organize games and tournaments.

“Since I graduate this year [my future plans for Quidditch] are kind of unsure. All I know is that we’ve got the World Cup in [Kissimmee] next spring and then hopefully wherever I land after college has a team because I don’t want to stop playing Quidditch until my body gives out.”

Muggle Quidditch has come a long way in the last seven years, though many of its affiliates are worried about the longevity of the sport. The three viable solutions that all the members interviewed seem to have reached a consensus on are increasing membership, creating full-time staffing positions and having Quidditch recognized as an official sport.

“There are two camps in Quidditch: some people who are less athletic want it to be more whimsical [and] just fun,” Miller explained. “The athletic crowd wants it to be more competitive and taken seriously as a sport and break away from the Harry Potter tradition a little bit just to be more recognized. I fall somewhere in between: I have a ton of fun playing the sport, but at the end of the day it is a competitive sport.”

The Fizzing Whizbees is one of the teams who play for casual recreation but hopes to become IQA official next fall.

“I would encourage anyone who is reading about Quidditch for the first time, or who has heard of it but never tried it [to] find the team nearest to you and go out and play with them right away,” Benepe said. “It’s an absolute blast to take part in.”

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