The sport, which J.K. Rowling created for her Wizarding World through the pages of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was a fantasy until students at a Vermont liberal arts college organized and played the first real-world contest in the early 2000s.
Nearly 15 years later, quidditch has evolved from an activity for hardcore fans to a niche sport that attracts competitors from Potterheads to multi-sport athletes, and their interest has sent the game into the realm of big-time athletics.
In the United States, teams are found at levels from youth to college, and there’s even a semi-professional league.
Approximately 3,500 Americans play organized quidditch every year through U.S. Quidditch, which is the national body governing most amateur teams in the country. Founded in 2010, the nonprofit hosts tournaments and events, supervises competition, trains and supports officials, and raises awareness of the sport.
Mary Kimball, U.S. Quidditch’s events director, said the organization’s membership consists of about two-thirds collegiate players and one-third adult community players — a participant base that helped the organization bring in more than $500,000 in 2017, when it netted $34,870 after expenses and salaries, and helped solidify the sport’s legitimacy in the nation’s amateur athletics market.
“We have our quirks and have our fun, but we’re focused on competition,” Kimball said.
And competition is fierce.
When quidditch originated at Middlebury College in 2005, players showed up wearing capes — mostly towels tied around their necks — as a nod to the youthful spirit of the game. Eventually, the homage was replaced with a more serious approach, which allowed Middlebury to dominate the college circuit until recently.
As the level of competition increased, so did the need for more skilled players. Now, university teams attract former high school athletes who want to continue an active lifestyle. Quidditch, however, remains a club sport that is not sanctioned by the NCAA.
The University of Texas at Austin quidditch team is a powerhouse, fresh off winning its fourth U.S. Championship Cup in the collegiate division since 2013, and sophomore Grayson Briggs, the club’s incoming president, credits the state’s penchant for developing athletes as the reason for the team’s prosperity.
Briggs said his team takes quidditch seriously, with daily workouts, two practices each week and film sessions to break down their latest match or scout the competition. It’s a routine similar to one used by the Longhorns football team, he added.
“People are committed,” Briggs said. “We want to win here at Texas. It’s like any other winning program at any other school.”
Other universities with quality quidditch teams include UCLA, Kansas, Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia, and these programs have bred community teams as graduates look for ways to continue playing.
Luke Zak and Mary Vollmar founded the Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Quidditch Club in 2013 after graduating from the University of Minnesota. Their efforts at the amateur level helped grow the sport’s popularity statewide, and led to the recent unveiling of Minnesota’s first semi-pro quidditch team, the Minneapolis Monarchs — one of three expansion teams to join Major League Quidditch this year. MLQ, launched in 2015, now boasts 15 programs.
Quidditch has become a worldwide phenomenon, too, with a World Cup competition taking place every two years since its inception in 2012. The international competition has been dominated by the United States national team, which has won three of four World Cups. Its only loss came to Australia in 2016.
It no longer takes a wizard to play the game, but quidditch requires some explaining to muggles — those who lack magical ability.
Quidditch, or “quid” as some supporters call it, is a mixed-gender, full-contact team sport in which game action flows back and forth on a field similar to soccer or lacrosse. The object of the game is to get a volleyball — properly deemed a “quaffle” — through one of three stand-up hoops attached to posts at each end of the pitch. Successful tries result in 10 points for the offensive team, but amassing the highest point total is not how the game is won.
To conjure a victory, teams must capture the “snitch,” which in the Wizarding World is a small, magical creature that flies. In this world, the snitch is a player not affiliated with either team who dresses in yellow with a tennis ball tucked into a sock, dangling from the back of their waistline.
A game ends when the sock is pulled from the snitch by a team’s seeker, one of seven players on the field for each squad.
The other positions are a keeper (goalie), three chasers (offense) and two beaters (defense). The seeker’s only job is to catch the snitch. Chasers attempt to put the ball through the hoops, which are guarded by keepers, while the beaters fling dodgeball-like “bludgers” at players to knock them off their brooms.
Oh, yes. There are brooms.
The originators at Middlebury College decided the brooms had to stay — even if they couldn’t use them to fly. They used real brooms, or whatever was available. One player, presumably not the cleaning type, instead rode a lamp.
Brooms are now league-standard PVC pipes players straddle as they maneuver around the field. It was just one of several changes made to keep the game grounded in reality and to draw more interest in the sport.
Ethan Sturm, MLQ’s co-founder and co-commissioner, knows the game can be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with the Wizarding World, which is why his league is on “the cutting edge” of rule changes. The strides MLQ has taken to make the game more accessible have been followed by U.S. Quidditch and has helped maintain interest in the sport, Sturm said.
One key move made by MLQ is to ride its circuit through the summer months to avoid overlapping with the college season, which runs from September to April. MLQ also prides itself as being an exclusive, consumer-friendly league that features top-tier talent to whet the appetite of those interested in the sport.
“We’re all about making the sport more consumable,” Sturm said.
While the hope is fans eat up semi-pro quidditch, the actuality is that the sport, which started in the pages of Rowling’s fantasy books has taken flight — even if its participants aren’t able to fly. Yet.