Quidditch: Fantasy sport brings real competition

Alonzo Small
Sports Editor

The Wizengamot Quidditch of VCU team playing a scrimmage on a drizzly Saturday, Jan. 24 at Petronius S. Jones Park. Photo by Becca Sehwartz

Never mind the fact that the game is inspired by the fantasy book and film series Harry Potter, the hula hoop-like goals or the straddling of brooms, Quidditch is quickly sweeping the nation and there’s nothing magical about its emergence. The sport is as real as it gets and VCU’s own Wizengamot Quidditch of VCU is physical proof of that.

If you haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies the rules are as follows: Matches are played with two teams of seven riding flying broomsticks, using four balls (a quaffle, two bludgers and a Golden Snitch) with the intent to score through six ring-shaped goals with three on each side at different heights.

The modernized real life game doesn’t stray from the original concept. Called “Muggle Quidditch,” gone are the flying brooms, only to be replaced by real ones. The Golden Snitch is now a person while the purpose remains the same.

In “Muggle Quidditch,” three chasers score goals worth 10 points each with a volleyball, called the quaffle, advancing the ball by running, kicking or passing to teammates. Like a goalie in soccer, each team has a keeper who defends the goal hoops. Two beaters use dodgeballs, called bludgers, to knock the opposing chasers out the game. Any player hit by a bludger is out of play until they touch their own goals. Each team also has a seeker who tries to catch the snitch. The snitch is a ball attached to the waistband of the snitch runner, a neutral athlete in a yellow uniform who avoids capture. The snitch is worth 30 points and its capture ends the game. If the score is tied after the snitch catch, the game proceeds into overtime.

Much like any other sport, fouls are forbidden with their occurrences drawing penalties. Like soccer, yellow cards and red cards are drawn. A yellow card indicates that a player must spend one minute in the penalty box. A red card indicates that a player is barred from the rest of the game.

Tommy McPhail, the president of Wizengamot Quidditch of VCU and senior mass communications major, said he can recall being introduced to the game by some friends when he arrived at VCU and becoming intrigued by its competitive nature.

“I fell in love with it immediately,” McPhail said. “There was a lot of people who were super in to it athletically and then a lot of people who were just super laid back, so to see one sport where all those levels of competitiveness could come together, it just kind of roped me in from there.”

Ashleigh Davis, a senior majoring in art history met McPhail four years ago when they both signed up for the team.

Davis already had a background in competitive sports such as soccer, gymnastics, dance, cheerleading and basketball. Her fascination with the game of Quidditch started in New York, when her friend, a photographer, shot the World Cup. A World Cup tournament is equivalent to football’s Super Bowl. It’s where the best teams in the country battle to become the league champion. Davis’s friend had rave reviews about the sport and when Davis transferred to VCU and found out the university had a Quidditch team, she said she felt it was something she’d like to try.

“It sounds silly but it still sounded like something I could do and something that’s fun,” Davis said.

The mixed-gender aspect was something that Davis said she felt was never an issue.

“I definitely think co-ed is more of an issue for the guys than the girls,” Davis said.

Davis described that naturally when a girl has the ball, some guys hesitate to tackle but to that she says “there are a lot of girls that are like ‘OK, I’m ready to tackle some dudes.’

So why should a sport that elicits full-on contact between men and women be considered authentic?

McPhail understands the biggest drawback to the sport’s authenticity is the fact that many eyes haven’t seen the product. To rid the game of its “wizardly” stigma, McPhail invites naysayers to watch for the game and not dwell on the fact that ‘yeah, we’re running around with brooms between our legs.’”

“When you have somebody come up to a game, and when you have somebody see it for the first time, they’re going to talk about it,” McPhail said. “And that’s the magic.”

The sport, which McPhail describes as a ‘rugby-dodgeball hybrid’ creatively mixes other sport components like wrestling, dodgeball, tackling and running all for the purpose of scoring points. McPhail says he feels the sport speaks to those with a competitive nature.

“That’s a lot of people’s perception: number one, ‘that’s a thing’; number two, ‘that’s silly’; number three ‘wait, you’re serious?’ McPhail said about people learning the sport.

“A big thing a lot of people think is ‘Oh, I have to know so much about Harry Potter’ when the reality is we have players who haven’t even read the book.” Davis said. “Honestly, day to day, when you’re going to tournaments and doing practices, you don’t even think about it being related to that because it’s evolved so much.”

Originally founded in 2005, McPhail says it wasn’t until 2008 that the game started to find an identity. In recent years, the sport has undergone more changes for the advancement of the game.

Broken bones, dislocated shoulders, twisted ankles, blown knees, near concussions, scrapes and bruises and the high possibility of bloodshed are some reasons the sports has started to change even the most serial non-believers’ mind. But don’t call it a blood sport. The mixed-gender competition has taken the necessary steps to claim legitimacy. The International Quidditch Association in conjunction with USQ help maintain the rules, standards and integrity of the game. Two years ago, the USQ implemented an accident insurance policy where in the case of serious injury, USQ will assist with individual’s existing health insurance. The plan extends to players, coaches and officials participating in official USQ matches or USQ-sanctioned events per its website.

VCU houses two squads: one for official games where the goal is to compete for entry into the World Cup and an unofficial roster on a first-come, first-serve basis. Official club members are required to pay a $50 insurance fee as well as dues.

“Every sport whether college or Olympics has set rules, set games, everything is well organized and sorted out, so I think it’s moving in that direction,” Davis said.

Games are usually played within the state with the participation of all the major universities. With the help of the Virginia Quidditch League, matchups are facilitated. VCU plays in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, which is the qualifier for the World Cup. VCU’s team has qualified two-of-the-last-three years.

While nothing is official, McPhail says the team does plan to attend tournaments in the near future. One tournament that is already set in the stone is the River City Invitational, a tournament which VCU cohosts with the University of Richmond annually. Scrimmages are likely to take place every weekend but McPhail said he knows it’s just a matter of logistics.

The team practices twice a week: Fridays at Petronius S. Jones Park (not to be confused with the Patronus Charm made famous in the Harry Potter books) from 3-5 p.m. at 1400 Idolwood Ave. and Sundays 4-6 p.m. at Cary Street Field.

As their time at VCU comes to a close, both McPhail and Davis hope that the sport continues at VCU; however in the mean time they will continue to spread their message.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” McPhail said. “We’re going to keep raising the bar and I know the sport as a whole is going to keep trying to make this push.”

“It’s not a question of ‘Are we legitimate?’” McPhail said. “It’s when will everyone else get onhboard. We’re not questioning it and that’s the difference. We can still love Harry Potter just like you can still love what you love. But those kids are still going to keep going out there, they’re still going to be tackling the sh-t of out each other, they’re still going to be rolling in mud, they’re still going to be hitting the gym, the question  is ‘when’s everyone else onboard?’”

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