Quidditch takes flight at UMD, sort of

It’s late one autumn night at the Ward Wells Field House. Two dozen students are running around with wooden sticks, brooms and Swiffers held between their legs — some tossing deflated dodgeballs at each other while others chase a man with a sock hanging from the back of his shorts.

Quidditch has come to UMD.

The high-flying wizard sport described by author J.K. Rowling in her “Harry Potter” series now has its own club on campus — complete with makeshift equipment, a bank account and as many as 30 members during a given practice.

Seniors Melanie Schmidt, Alison Serra and Sarah Stephenson first thought of starting a Quidditch team two years ago. Now they’re co-captains.

“One day I was like, ‘We need to start this,’” said Schmidt, the club’s organizer. “We’re seniors now, so we want to leave something.”

In 2005 students at Middlebury College in Vermont began playing a primeval version of the game, making up rules as they went along. Fast forward eight years and the sport has its own governing body (the International Quidditch Association) that brings together more than 1,000 teams from 13 countries.

Of course, in “Muggle Quidditch,” there is no flying. There are no bludgers that hurtle through the air like small, enchanted bowling balls, and there are no golden hoops that tower lavishly skyward. But accommodations have been made.

Like in the novels, each team has seven players: three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and a seeker. Since each player must use one hand to hold his or her broom, the balls are deflated to make them easier to catch.

Chasers attempt to put the quaffle (a volleyball) through three hoops guarded by the opposing keeper. It’s the job of the beaters to throw the three bludgers (dodgeballs) at opposing players to temporarily knock them out of the game. The seeker must catch the golden snitch (a tennis ball concealed in a sock that hangs like a tail from the back of a neutral player).

“You have three different games going on at once,” Schmidt said. “In basketball you have one ball and everyone is working together. People say when they watch Quidditch, ‘Where do I look?’ It looks like chaos.”

Matches are so disorderly the International Quidditch Association (IQA) recommends seven officials be on hand.

“It’s definitely a learning experience,” Serra said. “Every once in a while we have to stop play, pull out the rulebook and see what we have to do.”

The club’s captains say Quidditch, despite its complexity, is a sport anyone can play. A majority of the team’s players are freshmen, and the connection to “Harry Potter” has attracted students who might not have chosen to play a traditional sport.

“At one of our first meetings a couple of them said, ‘Thanks to this I can actually get off the couch and get active,’” Serra said. “It’s really nice to see because I’m actually the same way. I wouldn’t have bothered joining a sport unless it was something I was interested in.”

The team is still nameless, but plans to change that soon. Members want to spend the rest of the semester practicing and gathering funds, with intent to eventually register with the IQA, even if its senior co-captains graduate before that happens.

“We’ve seen some people who are very dedicated,” Stephenson said. “We’re kind of hoping to pass the torch to them.”

One member skilled at running — with a torch or anything else, for that matter — is freshman Spence Olson, the club’s snitch. Olson can be seen at practice darting in and out of the masses, climbing and vaulting to remote corners of the field house only accessible to seekers by ladder.

“It’s a challenge,” Olson said. “You need a lot of stamina. It makes people laugh and entertained, so I enjoy doing it.”

At the start of each match — before Olson’s antics can begin — the teams line up at opposite ends of the field. The quaffle and bludgers sit in the middle.

“You get down, you close your eyes,” Schmidt said. “Then they say, ‘Eyes open!’ Then they say, ‘Brooms up!’ When ‘brooms up’ happens you mount your broom and you run.”

BY KYLE FARRIS farri060@d.umn.edu

PHOTOS BY SARA HUGHES hughe290@d.umn.edu

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