Fantasy sport

University students play quidditch without losing the magic

You may have seen them practicing on Lower Field, wearing their red and white t-shirts, chasing a flicker of someone wearing gold spandex, while throwing volleyballs and dodgeballs at one another. At first glance, they may look like McGill’s makeshift dodgeball team practicing on grassy terrain, but a double-take reveals that these students are running around with brooms between their legs – definitely not your typical dodgeball equipment. No, instead these whimsical students are playing quidditch, the fictional sport from the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Quidditch, for those not familiar with the cultural phenomenon of Harry Potter, is the fictional sport that every wizard seems to know about, but very few have the skill to play. As described in J.K. Rowling’s novels, it requires players to possess athleticism, strategy, and agility, all while flying on a broomstick. The obvious question here is, how are students playing this game if flying is such a significant component? University students around the world have used their imaginations to find a way around their inability to physically defy gravity in order to participate in one of the most popular fantasy sports of the literary world.

The Muggle Quidditch Team at McGill was created in 2008 by a group of then U0 students during frosh week. Reid Robinson, one of the founders of McGill’s quidditch team – now Chief Warlock (read: President) – describes its inception as somewhat of a joke. “I had heard some of my friends at Middlebury College playing it,” said Robinson. “We watched some YouTube videos of how the game worked and decided to give it a try.” After just a few weeks of playing in the Douglas Hall courtyard, the first-year students had crafted bylaws, chosen their “Wizengamot” (the executive team of the club, named after the fictional governing body from the book series), and became an interim SSMU club. In fact, the Quidditch Club was awarded McGill’s “Best New Club of the Year” for 2008-2009.

Muggle (non-magical) quidditch is played in a similar fashion to quidditch in the novels, with some variation. Seven players from each team are on the pitch, but one neutral person represents the snitch. Both teams have one keeper (the goalie), two beaters (the team’s defense) and three chasers (the team’s offense).

The point of muggle quidditch is for the chasers to accumulate as many points as possible by throwing the “quaffle” (a slightly deflated volleyball) through one of three hoops on their opponent’s side of the field, but the opposite team’s chasers can do anything to try and get the quaffle out of their hands. Meanwhile, the beaters are throwing three dodgeballs, called “bludgers,” at one another. If a beater is hit, then they must drop the ball and circle around their team’s goal post – muggle quidditch’s attempt to simulate a player falling off their broom. Finally, while the keeper, chasers, and beaters are trying to rack up points on the scoreboard, the two seekers are chasing the Snitch – an elusive player dressed in all gold – and attempting to pull a sock hanging from the back of his or her pants. Once the snitch is caught, the game is finished and the team that caught it is awarded 30 extra points.

McGill’s team has garnered a greater following with an increase in the number of people showing up to practices, and one can see it as a way for these students to participate in a fantasy world from their childhood stories. This activity is a means for these individuals to hold onto some nostalgic reference to popular culture and immerse themselves in a fictional world. However, though many members of the team are Harry Potter fans, such as U1 Arts student Michael Haefner, their decision to join the team was not just because of their enthusiasm for the series, but rather a way to get involved in extra-curricular activities at McGill.

Haefner, who is in his first year at McGill, thought it would be a good idea to try an activity that is anomalous to your typical university sport, and “a fun way to meet new people.” Emma Rowlandson-O’Hara, a U1 Music student, shares Haefner’s sentiments on playing quidditch and McGill’s team. A fan of the Harry Potter series, this is Rowlandson-O’Hara’s second year playing for the Muggle Quidditch Team, and she continues to show up to practices because she likes “the contact and strategy.” When asked why she did not try out for a sport that possesses the components of physical contact and strategy, such as rugby, she noted that she “never learned to play, as her high school did not have a team.”

However, the quidditch team is accepting of members who are not well-versed in the prose of the boy wizard. “I’m not actually a Harry Potter fan,” stated Robinson matter-of-factly. “I’ve never read any of the books, but I have seen the movies.” He attributes his continued involvement with the team to boredom with most other sports, exclaiming that “quidditch [has] evolved into a nice community of people that love to play and are always having fun.”

One can gather that although it may seem the muggle quidditch team is using the activity as a gateway to hold onto the stories of their childhood youth, it is also a game that has evolved beyond the Harry Potter novels, and can be surprisingly strenuous and physically taxing for its players.

The future of quidditch at McGill and other Canadian universities is precarious, but Robinson has noticed its growth in popularity in Canada. In the past three years, Canadian Quidditch has grown from McGill being Canada’s only team, to ten other fully-functioning teams across the country, and another ten in their early stages. In the United States there are already about 200 schools with their own Quidditch teams and a few universities’ athletic departments have even given it official recognition. Likewise, Quidditch has gained popularity in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Colombia, and Australia. Robinson hopes that in the near future quidditch will be recognized as an official inter-collegiate sport, and perhaps even make its way to the Olympic stage. But until then, muggle quidditch’s potential of being recognized by McGill Athletics is unlikely.

If you’re interested in joining the Muggle Quidditch Team, or curious to see how its played, look out for the group of people with brooms (and possibly even a toilet plunger) practicing on Saturday afternoons at 3 p.m. and Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. on Lower Field. And remember, it is BYOB – Bring Your Own Broom.