TAMPA — Four years ago, a group of Harry Potter fans found a way to transform their love of the magical book series and movie franchise into a blood-and-sweat sport. With the books series completed and only one movie left to hit movie theaters, Potterheads had a new outlet — a version of Quidditch that muggles can play.
Shortly after the International Quidditch Association was formed in 2010, students at the University of South Florida in Tampa started their own team. New recruits were usually Harry Potter fans, more bookworms than athletes. Over time, the sport became less of goofy pastime and more of a serious athletic endeavor, said Alexia Barnes, a Trinity resident and “Beater Captain” who was coaxed into joining the team by a classmate.
“I didn’t realize how legitimate Quidditch was,” Barnes said. “I played soccer so I figured I’d come out, run over a bunch of nerds and go home. Three years later, I’m still here.”
Barnes, 23, is now the oldest member of the Quidditch team. With graduation ceremonies every semester and students moving on to lives outside of the university, the team is a revolving door of players. After Barnes finished her bachelor’s in psychology, she decided to continue on with the team while she completed her masters in applied behavioral analysis.
Quidditch is a magical sports game made up by J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series. Many current college students grew up with the young wizard protagonist of the series, making him a household name.
In the books and movies, the game is played in the air while flying on broomsticks. Players score points by passing a ball called a “quaffle” through hoops high off the ground while avoiding being knocked off their broomsticks by another ball called a “bludger.” There is also a player on each team called a “seeker,” who flies around the field searching for a quick, tiny flying golden ball called a “snitch.” The game ends when the snitch is caught and 150 points is awarded to that team.
In the Harry Potter world, games can go on for weeks or months until the snitch is caught.
In the real world, muggles, or non-magical folks, don’t have the ability to fly so players are land-bound and must run across the Quidditch field with a broomstick held in between their legs. The quaffle and bludgers are dodgeballs yielded by players and the golden snitch is a human dressed in yellow shorts with a “snitch tail” attached with Velcro that must be yanked off, much like in a game of flag football.
Hoops for scoring are made from PVC pipes.
With full-body tackling now allowed, Barnes said “we recruit a lot more athletes now. You wouldn’t have seen some of these guys out on the field a year ago.”
Despite teammates joking about jocks versus nerds, the team is a diverse group of players bent on inclusiveness and friendship. Whether a player reads the books, watches the movies, or just comes out to enjoy playing a different type of team sport, they’re united by their ability to shrug off criticism and poke fun at themselves.
“Sometimes when you explain to people that you play Quidditch, they scoff at you,” Barnes said. “When it comes down to it, you’re playing a sport on a broomstick.”
Teams run a 21-person roster and are guided by the rules set forth by the IQA and Florida Quidditch Conference. USF’s team as made an official sports club funded by the university in spring 2012 and no longer struggles to fundraise the money needed to attend regional tournaments like the Swamp Cup, which the team plays in this Saturday against Gainesville, and the Super Bowl of Quidditch, the World Cup.
The beauty of Quidditch, Barnes said, is that no one comes into it with bad habits from other sports they’ve played. No one grows up playing Quidditch, at least not current college students, and nothing compares to it.
“No one knows what they’re doing at first,” Barnes said. You come out, it’s different, and you’re determined to get better at it.”
At the beginning of Tuesday night’s scrimmage, a frigid night with a cool breeze that cut through light windbreakers and jersey shorts, the Quidditch team gathered to talk about Saturday’s Swamp Cup tournament against the enemy, the University of Florida. Team captain Blaine Fallone reminded them of the importance of decency.
“I know we hate UF but we need to be respectful,” Fallone told the players.
The Quidditch team is open to enrolled USF students at any of the university’s campuses. The team meets on Sycamore Fields Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8 p.m. until 9:45 p.m. and can be reached through their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/usfquidditch
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