At Manchester Meadows this weekend, soccer balls were replaced by quaffles, bludgers and broomsticks, along with the odd snitch.
Players from 80 teams, representing schools and clubs from across the United States and beyond, flew their brooms into Rock Hill this weekend for the 8th Quidditch World Cup, an elite-level competition for a game based on one played by wizards in the “Harry Potter” books and movies.
In the fictional world of Potter, wizards play quidditch on flying broomsticks. But because of the stories’ popularity, fans adapted the magical game to be played by earth-bound muggles – as Harry’s friends would call the non-magical community – as they attempt to maneuver volleyballs through hoops to score. But in the spirit of the game, they also must keep a broom between their legs at all times.
Quidditch has become popular enough as a co-ed, intramural league sport, on and off college campuses, that the national tournament sponsored by the official U.S. Quidditch Association brought an eclectic crowd to the Manchester Meadows complex for the two-day competition.
The game works with an offense – the chasers – and a defense of beaters and keepers.
“The chaser takes the quaffle, which is a volleyball, and they toss it through the hoops,” said Nick Candido, press coordinator for the event. “The keepers work as goalies for those hoops. The beaters take three bludgers (dodgeballs) on the field and try to hit the chasers, who then have to dismount and go back to their hoop.”
A fourth position, the seeker, tries to end the game by capturing the snitch, just like Harry Potter does when he plays quidditch.
Many of the competitors in the World Cup were college teams, but the tournament also included clubs formed to play in amateur competitions around the country. The Arizona Quidditch Club was formed by a group of college and former college players, many of them spread across the Southwest.
“We basically never practice together. We just come (to tournaments) and play,” said Marco Aleman, who plays chaser and seeker for the club. “This is our first World Cup, and we know we’re going to get the best teams from across the country.”
Arizona won all four of its preliminary games Saturday by catching the snitch, but were “blown out” early Sunday by the University of Texas team, the defending World Cup champion, Aleman said.
Andrew Zagelbaum, who plays seeker for the Warriors club team of New York, played every sport he could find before he joined the quidditch team at Macaulay Honors College. He sees the sport as a combination of rugby, soccer and lacrosse, which is how he still has to explain the game to most people.
“They didn’t realize they had this as a sport you can do for muggles,” he said.
The sport has its oddities, like having to hold on to the broomstick, but “it’s just like learning to dribble in basketball,” Zagelbaum said. “Every sport has a handicap somewhere.”
At times, the World Cup felt like a mix of serious athletic competition and fan convention, where serious athletes in team jerseys rubbed shoulders with kids dressed in full Hogwarts attire.
Nine-year-old Eli Finelli of Charlotte came dressed as Harry Potter in full quidditch robes, entering the day’s costume contest with other wizards and witches.
“It took no time to put together,” said mom Julie Finelli. “He basically wears it around the house.”
The family decided they had to make the short trip to see the World Cup after they heard about it on social media.
“I thought it was a joke,” Finelli said. “I think I kind of knew people played quidditch, but I thought it was 10-year-olds in their backyard... But I mean, UCLA is here. That’s bizarre.”
Lauren Bird tries to direct all this Potter fandom into a force for good. She’s a member of the Harry Potter Alliance, a national nonprofit organized by fans of the boy wizard that uses quidditch competitions as a base for its charitable work. Bird and members of the HPA’s Asheville, N.C., chapter, set up a table near the concession stands for a community book drive.
From holding events at other U.S. Quidditch tournaments, she’s seen how the sport has attracted fans far beyond the Potter universe.
“It’s actually mostly college jocks and members of the community who come out to watch,” said Bird, who played quidditch herself at New York University and against other HPA members. “Some even have no interest in Harry Potter. They just used to play lacrosse, and they decided this was cheaper.”
But the crowd at the World Cup shared the nonprofit’s giving spirit. The HPA’s book drive collected around 200 donated books that will be given to the Rock Hill Reads program.
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062