Harry Potter Magic at UBC

December 4, 2013

It's a hot fall day out at UBC. The sky is blue, the pitch is green, and the brooms, they are battered. Pink and orange deflated dodge balls and volleyballs, referred to as bludgers and quaffles in the Potterverse, fly through the air over MacInnes Field as students gallop around with brooms between their legs. It's the first quidditch practice of the season and the crowd of 74 recruits seems giddy to be playing the fictitious game from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. "We're jocks, but we're not jock-y in the douche-y kind of way; we're jocks kind of like in the really nerdy kind of way," explains Alexa Rowe, a second year arts student who got hooked on the series when it was just starting and she was eight. She plays the positions of chaser and seeker for the team.

Forestry program freshman Rahul Jobanputra runs up to the field. "I'm guessing this is quidditch?" he asks.

"Yes! Welcome!" Rowe answers. "Do you know what position you'd like to play?"

He doesn't.

"You've read Harry Potter, I'm guessing?"

"I'm a huge Harry Potter fan."

"If you're more into the scoring aspect, I would go for chaser. If you're more into the defensive aspect, I would follow this guy to the beaters," she tells him.

Jobanputra heads for the beaters, who are busy with drills.

To explain quidditch is tricky (hence the International Quidditch Association's 118-page rulebook), but in many ways it's a cross between rugby, capture the flag, and dodge ball-but played on a regulation-length broom. "It's not natural for people when they start, but you get the hang of it quick," says team captain Zack van Zanten. One person tried to use a Swiffer. "You're not supposed to do that," says IQA referee Patrick Fuller. "In tournament play, all players have to be on the same broom." The UBC team adopted the CT500, a silver Canadian Tire broom, and has proudly bought out the store's stock on several occasions. Continue reading…

Technically, the UBC team plays muggle quidditch, to differentiate it from wizard quidditch, the magic-laden game in the books. There are several things that mere mortals (muggles) cannot do that wizards can; the game compensates in several ways. Can't fly on a broom? No matter. All seven players must have a broom betwixt their legs at all times or be forced to dismount and tag their hoops before returning to game play. Don't have a golden snitch that can buzz around escaping capture by the seeker (Potter's position)? Not a problem. Personify the golden snitch by dressing someone with serious stamina all in gold, affix a ball in a tube sock to their rear, and let them roam the campus. (The game doesn't end until someone captures the snitch; members of the UBC triathlon club have volunteered this year.) In this way, what muggle quidditch lacks in magic, it makes up for in Monty Python-esque heraldry, unbridled enthusiasm from its players, and sheer athletic derring-do.

"One of the things that I love so much about this sport is it's really athletic," says Rowe. "The athletic part has become so big that it's started to become almost a bit of a separation, which I don't agree with." Some players want to focus more on the athleticism, others on the fantasy-already compromises have been made for practicality. The sport used to be played in robes, just as in the original, but that got nixed. In the books, where quidditch is both an ongoing obsession for the characters and a major plot point, catching the snitch is worth 150 points, but in the muggle version it's worth 30. There are even factions within the quidditch community that want to get rid of the brooms entirely. Then there's the question of just how fully pumped a deflated volleyball quaffle should be-a topic close to van Zanten's heart. Too deflated and you can't throw it as well. Too inflated and you can't pick it up as easily. It's an issue.

Such quibbles may be expected for a sport so new. Xander Manshel founded the sport in 2005 as a freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont. It's now played by 300 teams around the world, with national leagues in China, Mexico, Italy, Belgium, and Australia. The UBC team has only been around for three years and has already won the 2012 Northwest Championship. (It often competes against teams from UVic and SFU; this division is a little up in the air.) UBC's dream is to go to World Cup VII, held in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 2014. But it's got a ways to go before that.

Finally, the practice has led to some scrimmage. "Ready…," ref Fuller calls. The players kneel, heads bowed, at each end of the field. Tense, one knee lifted as if to start a sprint, they're all ears for the signal. "Brooms up!" he yells, and off they go.

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