• A league of their own
    By Brent Curtis Herald Staff | October 27,2008
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    A student from Green Mountain College (left) runs by a student from Vassar College at the Quidditch World Cup at Middlebury College Sunday.
    MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College doesn't look much like Hogwarts, the mythical school of witchcraft and wizardry known to Harry Potter fans everywhere.

    But the game that attracted thousands to the campus this weekend looked just like scenes drawn from the pages of author J.K. Rowling — without the flying.

    The second annual Quidditch World Cup featured more pointy hats, capes, brooms, bludgers, snitches and Harry Potter fans than you could shake a magic wand at.

    Fifteen teams representing different schools from around the state and around the country competed this weekend for the Quidditch Cup and, according to one of the event's founders, the "eternal glory" that goes with claiming the top honors.

    "I think it has a little to do with the love of Harry Potter and a little to do with the ridiculousness of it," said Middlebury student and tournament organizer Alex Benepe. "It's a kind of paradoxical sport. It's ironic and serious."

    That winning combination was enough to inspire a 14-member team and 60 of their fans from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia to drive 358 miles during the night and the pouring rain to make the tournament.

    In its first year of existence at Chestnut Hill, the game and tournament inspired almost 10 percent of the school's 800 students to make the trip.

    "We're small and mighty," said Max Kaplan, the 19-year-old Chestnut Hill student who founded the new sport on his campus.

    Whatever the attraction, there's no underscoring the three-year-old sport's popularity. Spectators wearing shirts with slogans like "I've got 99 problems but a snitch ain't one" crowded around two playing fields on Sunday to watch "wizards" and "witches" compete in a sport that combines elements of basketball, hockey, rugby, soccer, dodge ball and magical touches such as capes and brooms tucked between each players legs that looks like the high-flying sport Rowling described in her books filtered through the minds of Muggles.

    Which is by no means an insult. In fact, the Middlebury students who created the game paid every attention to detail, even creating a 40-page rule book, when they altered the magical sport for a mundane world.

    For example, dodge balls have replaced "bludgers" — magical wizard-seeking missiles that randomly assault players in the books. The incorporation of "penalty wands" which put players into penalty boxes for infractions is also a new twist.

    But by far the most interesting derivation is the personification of the "snitch." In the books, snitch is an elusive winged ball sought after feverishly by "seekers" who usually settle games simply by catching the snitch.

    In the games played at Middlebury, snitches are yellow-attired young men with tennis balls trapped in athletic socks hanging out of the back of their pants. Get a grip on the ball and you catch the snitch.

    But in between matches on Sunday, snitch and Middlebury College student Rainey Johnson said that's easier said than done.

    The 21-year-old cross-country runner and wrestler spent the day putting the moves on players out to get him. Inevitably, he was caught every time — the games don't end until the snitch is in hand.

    But for a snitch, winning isn't as important as finding ways to embarrass the players and torment fans.

    "For a snitch, success is measured by the cheers and jeers of the crowd," the snitch said.

    Success for everyone else in the sport is based on winning the tournament.

    As of 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, the Middlebury team "Dementer's Kiss" was undefeated as was Emerson and Vassar. Green Mountain College, the only school representing Rutland County, was 1-and-1.

    Contact Brent Curtis at brent.curtis@rutlandherald.com.
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