When J.K. Rowling released the first Harry Potter book in 1997, nobody could have predicted the worldwide cultural phenomenon the story would become. Six more books, eight movies and a theme park later, perhaps one of the most interesting legacies of the book is only recently beginning to emerge. Inspired by the magical game Rowling created in her books, organized Quidditch teams are emerging on college campuses across the United States. Offering a unique mix of fantasy and athletics, the sport is exploding in popularity.
At Western, the Quidditch team is led by senior Will Crow. Crow has seen the team grow from just an offshoot of Harry Potter club to an independent organization. Under Crow’s leadership, the team will see another huge milestone this year when they host the Northwest Quidditch Tournament.
The tournament will bring together Quidditch teams from five schools: Western, Cornish College of the Arts, University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and University of Idaho. The tournament is on Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to 4 p.m. on the Lower Fairhaven Field. Teams will compete in a round-robin style tournament and at the end of the day, a champion will be crowned.
If your only exposure to Quidditch has been the scenes from Harry Potter books and movies, it can be a little puzzling to work out exactly how people are managing to play a sport that involves flying on broomsticks hundreds of feet above the ground, magical balls bewitched to knock people off their brooms, and a tiny golden ball that zooms around trying to evade capture.
Although many of the rules are taken straight from the books, the transition from a fictional sport set in the wizarding world to a sport played in real life does require some clever tweaking.
The field is set up with three goal hoops at both ends made from PVC piping and hula-hoops. Each team has a keeper who is in charge of guarding these hoops and three chasers who attempt to score on the opposing team’s goals. The chasers and keepers work with a ball called a quaffle, just like in Rowling’s books. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park in Florida, even sells a version of the ball made to replicate Rowling’s design as closely as possible. Each time a team gets the quaffle through the opponent’s goal hoops, they are awarded 10 points. Official games are played until one team reaches 150.
Rowling’s bludgers, iron balls bewitched to fly on their own and knock players off their brooms are replaced by dodge balls. Each team has two beaters whose job is to throw the balls at opposing players. If a player is hit by a bludger, they must run back and tag their own goal post before they can return to play.
Broomsticks are still required, and although they don’t lift players into the air, they do add an element to game play. Players must keep the brooms between their legs at all times and if they fall or are knocked off they don’t face a plummet to the ground like Rowling’s characters do, but they do have to drop everything and tag a goal post.
The last player on the team is the seeker, the player tasked with hunting down and capturing the golden snitch. Here is perhaps the most clever adaption from book to life. Instead of trying to find a ball that can somehow imitate the snitch’s hovering and evasive tactics, the golden snitch is represented by a person, dressed in all yellow, who is allowed to go beyond the normal field of play in a desperate dash to stay away from the seekers. Capturing the snitch will earn a team 30 points.
Currently, the Western team gets together every Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on the lawn in front of the Communications Facility to play a friendly, informal game. For most of its existence, that has been the team’s only activity. However, this year, the team has big plans to become something much more complex.
“This year we’re trying to get everybody sorted into the different houses from Harry Potter, and we’re going to try to do a House Tournament that is Western students against Western students,” Ravenclaw Captain Mitchell Hatfield explained.
Hatfield said creating competition within Western will be a good way to build up and develop the team, as well as add a dynamism to the games that goes deeper than the informal feel of the traditional Sunday games.
However, Crow, Hatfield and the rest of the Quidditch team are working diligently to grow not just their own team, but to develop a group of teams in the Northwest that can regularly compete against each other.
An important first step towards accomplishing this vision is the upcoming Northwest Tournament. The tournament will be played round robin style, giving every team an opportunity to face off against each of the other schools in the first round. For that early round, a win will earn a team two points while a loss means they will only get one. Points will determine the top two teams, who will square off against each other for the championship title and second place. There will also be a game played against the third and fourth ranked teams to determine third and fourth place.
Hatfield is very optimistic about the team’s chances of winning.
“I think that the Western team is going to do very well. I’m not trying to brag, but just from looking at the scrimmages we’ve been having, we have a pretty stacked team,” he said. “We have a lot of quick people, we have a lot of tactic-minded people, we have good aim, our scoring is wonderful.”
Crow said the team has even been developing plays to use in tournament games. One play, called the Fwoosh and Pass mimics a basketball play, while the other, named the Western Front, will be tactical move that requires the Western players to group together and move in a pack down the field, allowing the beaters to protect the group as a whole while they charge towards the opposing goals.
If the tournament goes well, Hatfield hopes it will be a stepping-stone to organizing more tournaments throughout the year. Ideally, it will serve as the beginning of the Northwest league that the team is so desperately trying to establish. Quidditch is popular in the U.S., especially on college campuses, but the majority of the teams are based either in California or out on the East Coast. The International Quidditch Association (IQA) has hundreds of registered teams and holds regional and national tournaments every year. Crow wants to see his team become a paying member of the IQA, which will allow them to participate in these tournaments.
Hatfield and Crow want to push for a large number of schools in the region to join so they can host their own Northwest Regional tournament and send a team from the northwest to the national competition every year.
“That’s my vision, I want to see a Northwest champion in the next couple years,” Hatfield said. “We want to show the teams that are traditionally powerhouses over on the East Coast that the West Coast has some powerhouse teams too.”
These are lofty goals, and they begin with developing the Western team. For now, Crow and Hatfield urge anyone interesting in participating in Quidditch to come to one of the Sunday games and try it out.
“It’s the easiest way to get involved,” Hatfield said. “Come, play, we just break up into teams and play scrimmage matches. It’s a fun atmosphere.”
Hatfield stressed that absolutely anyone is welcome, students, professors, staff, even people just visiting Western for the weekend. While Crow and Hatfield have big dreams for their team, they also want it to retain an aspect of fun, informality, and above all, community.
“We all get to know each other really well, it’s often that we have dinner afterward and sometimes game or movie nights,” Crow said.
Anyone interested in getting involved in the Quidditch community in any way can find the team on Facebook or OrgSync, or on Sunday out on the Comm Lawn.
“Quidditch has been an awesome experience of my college career,” Crow said. “I hope it can be that for other people as well.”