Quidditch grows up
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | October 26,2009
Cassandra Hotaling / Rutland Herald
Middlebury College plays against McGill University in the 2009 Quidditch World Cup on Sunday in Middlebury.
MIDDLEBURY — It looked like the weirdest gang rumble in history.
Two large groups of people, one clad in purple, the other in yellow, tackled one another and wrestled. They’d form giant dog piles, throwing elbows and applying choke holds.
It wasn’t a brawl, though. It wasn’t even a rugby game. It was a playoff match in the third annual Quidditch World Cup. Host Middlebury College claimed the cup for the third year running, beating Emerson College in the final round.
The magical sport from the Harry Potter novels was made real by a group of Middlebury students who managed to get one other school to come to the first World Cup in 2007. Last year a dozen schools attended.
This year, 22 teams played on four fields, with hundreds in attendance and 70,000, according to the announcers, watching on the Internet. Harvard, Yale, Vassar and Syracuse sent teams along with colleges as far away as Texas and Louisiana.
“I thought we were going to come out here for 20 minutes and see how they play it,” said Chelsea Ortuno of Shoreham. “I love it. It’s like rugby mixed with soccer mixed with wrestling.”
The ultimate goal is to get a ball called a quaffle through one of six hoops at either end of the field. Complicating that are players who can temporarily knock an opponent out of play by hitting them with a ball called a bludger.
An independent player, called a snitch, has a sock with a ball in it hanging out of the back of his or her waistband. Players on each team called seekers try to grab the sock to end the game. The side that gets it gains a large number of points — usually, but not always, enough to assure victory.
Got all that?
All through a match, the players on both sides run with broomsticks between their legs. Most of them also wear capes. One snitch, having gotten a seeker’s cape away from him, used it to taunt him like a matador would a bull.
The bounds of the field are adhered to only loosely by the players — and not at all by the snitches — so play repeatedly spilled out into the audience.
Running commentary came from Middlebury’s improvisational comedy club. They mispronounced the name of Moravian College in order to make several jokes at the expense of the Republic of Moldova. Several communism-themed quips were directed at UVM.
Between-match entertainment included an a cappella performance, a dance routine like those from the cheerleaders during halftime at a basketball game and a chemistry professor setting off explosions.
Keane Yarish, a 20-year-old player of McGill University in Montreal, said his introduction to quidditch came when he moved into his dorm, looked out his window and saw people running with brooms in the courtyard.
“They were all laughing and having more fun than I was studying,” he said.
McGill plays intramural matches three times a week. Yarish said they started out just running around, but slowly started taking the game more seriously.
“We’re starting to incorporate strategy, looking at other sports,” he said. “We took a lot of positioning from lacrosse and rugby.”
Several spectators said, like Ortuno, that they enjoyed watching the game more than they expected. They also said it was rougher than they thought it would be. Injuries stopped play for several minutes in at least four matches, and medics carried at least two players off the field on stretchers.
One, a woman from Virginia Commonwealth University, suffered a broken collarbone in a preliminary match. The other, later in the day, was a Green Mountain College player with unspecified neck or head injuries.
Alex Benepe, a Middlebury alumnus who helped create the rules and now runs the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, said the GMC player was expected to be fine, and the Virginian was the first serious injury in a World Cup, though a Middlebury player suffered a broken collarbone during an intramural game.
“The kids who play this — they know what they’re getting into,” he said. “It’s dangerous, but that produces some of the thrill.”
Benepe said quidditch is safer than rugby, football or soccer, but organizers had decided to try to scale back the level of allowable roughness this year. Early in the tournament, one referee was heard testily explaining that “you can’t throw punches” and another penalized two players for fighting.
“In high school, I played rugby and lacrosse at a high level,” Yarish said. “I was excited to see a very physical sport that’s also very silly. … People walking by say, ‘you’re playing quidditch, that’s silly.’ Then they see us play and they respect us.”