Quidditch comes to life at more than a dozen Florida colleges

CORAL GABLES — Quidditch is part soccer, part basketball, part dodgeball, and all fantasy — or at least it used to be. The hybrid game was invented by author J.K. Rowling and, until recently, only played by the imaginary broom-flying wizards of her popular Harry Potter novels.

These days, a version for us lowly humans — or "muggles," in Potter terms — is popping up at more than a dozen college campuses in Florida.

"I can't tell you if there's flying or not, that's a secret," joked University of Miami quidditch player Ally Levy.

There are brooms, but no gravity-defying coeds. Instead, students run around with brooms between their legs.

"You have to keep one hand on it at all times because we're simulating flight," explained UM quidditch organizer Alex Locust. "If you take both hands off, you 'fall.' "

Five years ago, students at Vermont's Middlebury College invented this brand of quidditch. There are now more than 500 active quidditch teams worldwide.

In Florida, most of the nearly 30 quidditch teams that have registered with the International Quidditch Association — a "magical nonprofit organization" that governs the sport — are colleges. But there's also a smattering of high schools — including North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek and Western High School in Davie.

Both the University of Miami and Florida International University launched quidditch clubs this semester. In the most eagerly anticipated match since Slytherin vs. Gryffindor, UM will take on FIU in December.

Quidditch players typically grew up reading Harry Potter, and relish the experience of playing even a scaled-down version of the game.

Muggle quidditch might not have any acrobatic broom-flying, but that doesn't mean it's for sissies. There's plenty of bumping and other physical contact.

"I've found the girls are more vicious," said FIU quidditch organizer Chelsea Klaiber, adding that one team practice featured a snapped broom caused by a female student tackling one of the guys.

Ah, the brooms. This detail is responsible for much of the challenge that comes with playing quidditch: There's the predictable awkward running, but holding the broom also takes one arm permanently out of play. "To me, it's a little bit dangerous with the brooms," Bob Beloff said after watching his 18-year-old son, Sean, play. The otherwise proud father speculated that it might be time for quidditch to add protective cups for men.

So far, the list of official "recommended" equipment has goggles, shin guards and capes.

How exactly does the game work? For non-Potter fans, try visualizing an oval-shaped, half-sized soccer field where each teams' net is replaced by three basketball-hoop-like spheres. The underlying principle is the same — ball goes in, points get scored (with a goalie-type player standing in the way). In this case, the ball is a partially deflated volleyball known as a "quaffle."

While teams' offensive players scurry about on their brooms attempting to score goals, defensive players known as "beaters" work to sabotage any scoring attempt by knocking the quaffle-holder temporarily out of play. This is done through a method closely resembling dodgeball — beaters toss partially deflated dodgeballs at opponents who are "knocked out" for a moment if they get hit.

As all that quaffle-tossing and pseudo-dodgeball takes place on the field, three other players engage in a game of tag/flag football that also has points at stake.

One of those players assumes the role of the "Golden Snitch." In the book, the snitch is a small, gold-colored ball with wings — whichever team catches it is rewarded with a healthy number of points, and the game concludes.

In the land of muggles, the snitch is a person, dressed in yellow or gold, with an ability to run really fast. The snitch is chased by a representative from each team, with both players attempting to "catch" the snitch by grabbing a tennis ball that hangs from the snitch's body, housed in a sock.

Nabbing the snitch is harder than it may seem. The snitch is allowed to scamper far off the playing field, in and around campus, and can use whatever he or she finds to aid the escape.

Beloff has played volleyball in both high school and college. Quidditch, he says, seems more strenuous. At FIU, some players who tried out for the quidditch team didn't make the cut.

"A lot of people who tried out, they thought it was going to be easy and fun, but it's a legitimate sport," said Klaiber, the FIU organizer.

Quidditch comes to life at more than a dozen Florida colleges 11/07/10 [Last modified: Sunday, November 7, 2010 11:46pm]

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