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Quidditch sweeps Medfield and the globe

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By Cameron Small
Hometown Weekly Intern

“Rough game, quidditch.”

“Brutal. But no one’s died in years.”

The Weasley twins Fred and George say this to Harry just after he makes the Gryffindor Quidditch team in the movie adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” While not the best way to inspire confidence in an eleven-year-old, the Weasleys spoke true: in the film, Quidditch is a magical sport played on flying broomsticks while cannonball-like balls called bludgers speed around and try to knock you off your broom.

The magical sport of Quidditch (capitalized when named in the books, lowercase “q” when referring to the real-world version) has been adapted for muggles (the wizard world term for non-magic folk), and the broomstick-riding sport is sweeping the globe. While modern players cannot fly yet, the full-contact sport continues to grow in popularity, especially around college campuses and among recent college graduates. The International Quidditch Association (IQA) now boasts over three hundred teams in twenty countries around the world.

Much like Ultimate Frisbee – now ubiquitous in college and high school athletics programs alike - was the new and upcoming sport about two decades or so ago, quidditch is the next big thing. The sport is growing so much, in fact, that United States Quidditch (USQ), the governing body for collegiate quidditch, has rulebooks on its website with adaptations for high schoolers and single-digit-aged children.

On Tuesday, July 26, the Medfield Public Library held an event to teach seven to eleven-year-olds how to play quidditch. The quidditch played at the Medfield Library was toned down appropriately for the age group, using pool noodles for brooms, foam dodgeballs for bludgers, and a very deflated small soccer ball for the quaffle. The hoops were hula-hoops; unlike regular quidditch, however, they were not self-supportive and standing upright.

Charlotte Brown organized the event with the help of two librarians, Kim Tolson and Bernadette Foley. Brown has previously held quidditch events for children at after-school programs, and wanted to do something like it again. Trying to emulate “Kidditch,” the official name for children’s quidditch, as close as possible, Brown kept many of the rules that make up quidditch—Title 9 3/4 for one, brooms between the legs at all times, and the seeker floor. To help adapt it for the event, Brown reduced the time of the seeker floor. She also allotted time for the snitch to “cool down,” a luxury not usually afforded the snitch runner.

Brown seemed as excited about the event as the kids who were present. The event was as much to get the kids outside and active as it was to try to get them into reading. “There’s a newest ‘Harry Potter’ that just came out, ‘The Cursed Child.’ So maybe that’ll bring more excitement to read the books even though they’re all out, and the movies, it’s different than growing up with them, but they’re still magical.”

One attendee of the event, Maggie, aged 10, seemed to have tons of experience. She watched movies one through five, and was in the middle of reading the sixth book. Maggie had the extra benefit of having previously played quidditch at a friends’ birthday party. “I was playing keeper because I’m tall,” she said. Like the collegiate athletes who play quidditch, Maggie found the most difficult part of quidditch to be “running around the whole time, instead of flying.” College kids will more likely complain about running with a PVC pipe broom between their legs.

Like collegiate quidditch games, “it’s kind of organized chaos,” as described my Medfield Public Library Director Kristen Chin. With four balls (three bludgers and one quaffle) in play before the snitch appears, it is often hard to know what to follow. In watching the kids play from the sideline, Chin said, “It’s like they’re on the edge of their seat, they know they need to listen to this, but they just want to get up and do it.”

Basic Rules

Chin, Brown, and Foley use words that don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense out of context. Let’s set that context up for those who weren’t at the library event.

The “quaffle" is the main ball. At the Medfield Library, a deflated soccer ball was used; USQ and IQA teams use a slightly deflated volleyball. Three “chasers” on each team pass the quaffle back and forth and try to score. Chasers wear white headbands. Every time the quaffle goes through the hoops, the scoring team is awarded ten points. There is also a “keeper,” whose job is to defend the hoops. Keepers wear green headbands.

Next are the “bludgers.” At the Medfield Library, foam dodgeballs were used. For USQ and IQA teams, bludgers are rubber dodgeballs, similar to what would be used for a game of kickball. There are two “beaters” on a team who throw the bludgers at opposing members of the other team. If someone gets hit by a bludger before it hits the ground, that player is “knocked out,” and must return to the hoops on their side of the field and touch them with their hand. They must also come off broom to do this, and remount before they return to play.

The chasers, keepers, and beaters make up six of the seven players necessary for a team. The last member of the team is the “seeker,” made famous by Harry Potter himself. The seeker wears a yellow headband, and their job is to catch the “snitch.” Like USQ and IQA, the Medfield Library used a small tennis ball in a sock attached to the shorts of the “snitch runner.” The snitch runner is a neutral player who wears yellow, who can do what they want to defend themselves from being caught. This usually entails grappling and throwing the seekers. For USQ and IQA, the “tail,” which refers to the ball in the sock, usually gets attached by velcro. There are specific rules about how long the tail needs to be.

Games start with the chasers, beaters, and keepers lined up with their brooms touching the base of their hoops. They must have their brooms on the ground. The players themselves may be in a stance similar to the start of a track meet, with one knee down in a crouch. There are several referees who regulate play. The Head Referee will say “Ready… Brooms up,” at which point the players will rush towards mid-pitch, where the quaffle and bludgers start the game. The players can start moving on the “b” syllable of “brooms.”

It is important to note here that the snitch does not start at the beginning of the game. This is what’s called “the snitch floor,” or “the seeker floor.” The seeker floor is the period of time when the snitch remains out of the game. Depending on what league you play determines the length of time of the seeker floor. Emerson College Quidditch’s Intramural House League (ECQ for short) uses a seeker floor of twelve minutes. USQ and IQA games use a seeker floor of eighteen minutes.

Once the Head Referee has called “brooms up,” the game does not end until the snitch has been caught. There are no timeouts in quidditch. A game may be paused for injury, or if there is a discrepancy among the referees about a call. Apart from these instances, quidditch is nonstop.

In Quidditch, a snitch catch is worth one hundred and fifty points. However, if that were to be the case for quidditch, games would be solely determined by who caught the snitch. For this reason, catching the snitch only earns an additional thirty points.

“Brooms” aren’t necessarily brooms. USQ has found wood brooms with bristles at the end to pose a potential safety hazard to players. Instead, they have regulation lengths for brooms made of PVC pipe. At the Medfield Library, brooms were made of pool noodles. It’s not as important that the broom be a broom, but that there is some object between a players legs at all times.

The hoops, like in Quidditch, are supposed to be of three different heights and self-supportive. At the Medfield Library, this proved to be too much of a challenge, and so the hoops were not standing upright. For USQ and IQA, most hoops are made of PVC pipe, with circular bases and cross pieces to allow the hoop to stand upright. It’s important for them to stand upright, because chasers can score from either side of the hoop.

Some other rules:
If a player comes off their broom during play, they are considered “off broom.” They must go back and touch their hoops before returning to play.
If a player gets “beat,” meaning they get hit by a bludger thrown by an opposing beater, they must dismount their broom, return to, and touch, their hoops before returning to play.
A chaser or a keeper may not throw, kick, or do anything to a bludger. Likewise, a beater cannot play with the quaffle.

There are other rules, dictating how much contact can be made between players (no contact, partial contact, full contact), or what constitutes a clean snitch catch, and penalties—but with these basics you could play quidditch at home.

The pictures generously supplied by ECQ exemplify gameplay with partial contact. ECQ will have five intramural teams who play partial contact quidditch on Boston Common. Each team is named after a street or neighborhood of Boston, and is identified by its color and logo. Anyone who is in a degree-granting program in Boston is allowed to join ECQ. Emerson College Quidditch is also the name of the Emerson quidditch team that plays under USQ rules. The USQ-ECQ team plays other schools and community teams. For more game day information, scores, photos and more from ECQ, you can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EmersonQuidditch or on Twitter @ECQuidditch.

How quidditch started

Muggle quidditch doesn’t have quite the same legacy as Quidditch, which started in 1398 (according to “Quidditch Through the Ages,” the quintessential Quidditch book in “Harry Potter”). According to the USQ website, quidditch as it’s played collegiately started in 2005 by then-freshman Xander Manshel at Middlebury College in Vermont. Manshel’s quidditch started like a cosplay, with players wearing capes and pointed wizards hats. Other kids of the Potter-generation learned of what Manshel started, and wanted to play too. Soon, collegiate teams were popping up around the country.

As the sport grew in popularity, the capes and hats were foregone in favor of safety, though minimal protection is used. Players are allowed padding no more than an inch thick. The only “hard” protection allowed is a cup—otherwise, protection that makes a “knocking” sound if tapped by a referee is not allowed. Glasses, piercings, and jewelry are not permitted on the pitch.

The USQ website, usquidditch.org, has more details about the evolution of quidditch, as well as rulebooks and adaptations for high school players and “kidditch.”

Why quidditch?

First off, quidditch is a lot of fun to watch, and even more fun to play. Maggie put it as succinctly as anyone could: “Quidditch is fun.” It is fast paced with lots of action. With a possible five balls in play at a time, there’s always some action to watch on the pitch.

Secondly, quidditch is, and always has been, a co-ed sport. “A quidditch game allows each team to have a maximum of four players, not including the seeker, who identify as the same gender in active play on the field at the same time,” says the most current rulebook, Rulebook 9, available as a PDF on the USQ website. “The gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player’s gender, which may or may not correspond with that person’s sex. USQ accepts those who don’t identify within the binary gender system and acknowledges that not all of our players identify as male or female. USQ welcomes people of all identities and genders into our league.”

Most people might subscribe to the gender stereotype that women are weaker than men and not able to tackle the male players. The opposite is true. In a recent interview for Boston Magazine, Boston Night Rider chaser Julia Baer says, “I find … that there’s a guy who doesn’t think a girl will tackle him to the ground—I love that. I love being underestimated. There are so many female stars who completely outshine their male counterparts on the field.”

Thirdly, quidditch is a unique combination of other sports, requiring both physical skills and mental strategy. Quidditch primarily combines rugby, dodgeball, and capture the flag. Depending on the level of quidditch being played, games could last anywhere from twelve minutes to an hour. Without time-outs, players need stamina and substitutes to play the sport, making it an inclusive team sport. There’s also the matter of full-contact, and needing the strength to bring players potentially bigger than yourself to the ground.

Much strategy is involved too. With only three bludgers but four beaters, the “beater game” requires strategy to control the “quaffle game” and the “snitch game.” If you’re seeking, and your team is down by a certain margin of points, are you defensive-seeking or trying to suicide (the term used for when a seeker catches the snitch to end the game resulting in their team still losing)?

So…what?

Quidditch is a fast-growing sport that seems to have grabbed a hold of the hearts of kids and adults alike. People who don’t regard themselves as athletes are able to succeed at quidditch—it’s not always the biggest, fastest, or strongest kids who play. If you like to run, you could be a chaser. If you don’t like to run, but you like to throw things, you could be a beater. If you like being thrown around, perhaps you could be a seeker.

Outside of the MetroWest, quidditch is big. For the second summer in a row, there is Major League Quidditch (MLQ). The Boston Night Riders, the MLQ team for Boston, has yet to lose a game in either the regular season or the post-season. MLQ does live-stream broadcasts of the games of the sixteen teams across the nation. If you thought quidditch couldn't get nerdier, know that MLQ also does “fantasy quidditch,” similar to fantasy baseball or fantasy football.

The IQA also recently held a World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, in which Australia beat the United States in the finals, 150*-130 (the asterisk means that Australia caught the snitch. They were down by ten and caught the snitch and so won by twenty).

More information can be found about quidditch on the USQ website, usquidditch.org.

If you're interested in playing qudditch, the Medfield Library will be hosting another quidditch event on August 20 at 10:30 AM. Register online beforehand at www.medfieldpubliclibrary.org/events/.

Cameron Small plays House League Quidditch at Emerson College, and is more than happy to answer any additional questions about it. He feels in writing this that he’s barely scratched the surface. Thanks to Steve Press for his help in gathering information for the article.

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