Not Just For Wizards: Quidditch World Cup Sweeps Into New York

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Think quidditch is a game just for Harry Potter fans? Think again. Quidditch is definitely not for couch potatoes. Or the faint of heart. It may be based on a fictional activity but it combines speed, strength, endurance (along with a bit of mischief) and a caliber of athleticism that rivals any mainstream sport.

This weekend, the fifth annual Quidditch World Cup, organized by the very real International Quidditch Association (IQA) sweeps into Randall's Island, New York.  Approximately 100 college and high school teams from 27 states as well as Argentina, New Zealand, Canada and Finland will compete over the two-day tournament. Teams representing such schools as Harvard, Yale, Duke, UCLA, Emerson, NYU, Swarthmore, Carleton, Tufts and Middlebury will be there.

For some, quidditch is a way to relive the magic of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. For others, it is an athletic challenge. The co-ed event combines elements of rugby, dodge ball, tag and hide-and-seek, with a bit of theatre thrown in. It's a full-contact sport with no heavy padding and a variety of sports-related injuries can and do occur.

While much of the game remains true to its description in the Harry Potter series, some elements have been adjusted for Muggles (non-magic folk). There  is still a great deal of reverence for the original story, but also creative interpretations of Rowling's details.

Quidditch was first translated from flying broomsticks to a more grounded version by Middlebury College students in 2005.The real-life interpretation of the high-flying Hogwarts game has since taken off in a big way, with hundreds of colleges and high schools practicing and competing around the world.

For the uninitiated, the Quidditch of Muggles is played very similar to the way it is described in Rowling’s books (without the flying of course).

There are seven players on each team and everyone runs about the oval pitch on a broomstick. Three chasers on each team throw a volleyball — a quaffle — back and forth between themselves as they attempt to score on one of three goal hoops on the other side of the field.

Each goal is worth 10 points. The hoops are guarded by a “keeper” who acts as a goalie.

The job of the chasers is made more difficult by the fact that the chasers on the other team are trying to tackle them to the ground to steal the ball from them.

Then there are the two “beaters’ on each team throwing “bludgers” or dodge balls at the members of the opposing team in an effort to disrupt the flow of the match. When a player gets hit, they have to dismount their broom.

There’s also a “snitch runner” a neutral player dressed in an improvised yellow costume, whose job it is to hide and get hunted down by the "seekers" (one per team). If a seeker successfully grabs the sock the snitch wears tucked into his or her waistband or back pocket, that team wins 30 points.

The snitch does not use a broom and does not belong to either team. But his or her actions often result in the most hilarity. Snitches are allowed to do just about anything to elude the seekers—they can climb a tree, wrestle oher players, ride a bicycle...even leave the field.  A game of quidditch ends when the snitch has been cleanly snatched from the snitch runner.

The game definitely has a social conscience. In fact, starting Fall 2012, look for enforcement of – Title 9 ¾ – requiring teams to have at least three women on the field at all times making a 4:3 ratio. A seemingly progressive stipulation for coed play is also set forth in the rulebook: "The gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player's gender."

Short of a wizard casting a spell on NCAA officials, however, it's doubtful quidditch will  be sanctioned by the college sports authority anytime soon.  But that doesn't seem to stop students from flocking to the game. And vying for a World Cup.

The Quidditch World Cup 2011

Where: Icahn Stadium, 20 Randall's Island, New York
When: Tomorrow, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
How much: $4.99 to $99.99. Call (917) 740-8216 or visit worldcupquidditch.com.
What else: There will be Quidditch merchandise (yes, brooms), Butterbeer (the wizarding world's drink of choice), owl demonstrations, commentary from improv comedians and the band Harry and the Potters (Sun).

For more information about playing Quidditch, visit internationalquidditch.org.

@jschonb
dare to dream
Also online at prettytough.com and womentalksports.com

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