National quidditch tournament a rough and tumble event in Myrtle Beach

As spectators entered the gates around noon Saturday at the new North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, they could see the paradox that is quidditch, a game borne out of Harry Potter books and movies.

Backing up to a perimeter gate, paramedics loaded a Penn State player who had been kicked in the head into an ambulance. The man was kept motionless on a protective board with a brace around his neck. Teammates and friends watched silently as the player answered a few questions from a paramedic.

Only a quaffle’s – or a deflated volleyball – throw away inside the gates, competition in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere continued in the new game’s ultimate event, the International Quidditch Association World Cup VII.

Players wearing matching outfits much like decked-out soccer uniforms, many bearing whimsical nicknames or slogans on the back of their jersey, battled on more than a dozen fields, throwing quaffles and assorted bludgers, or rubber kickballs, often tackling opponents of all sizes and genders. All 14 players – with the exception of one member of each team - ran with required brooms between their legs.

A co-ed game regarded as a more social alternative to traditional sports, quidditch is often physical and intense on the field.

IQA directing of marketing Logan Anbinder said IQA has three priorities: competition, creativity and community.

"You meet a lot of great people," said Myrtle Beach native Robert Boykin, a member of the University of South Carolina team. "I didn’t know how to play when I got to USC. On new student day, I became very interested in it."

"You don’t play if you can’t at least take some things tongue and cheek. You’re out there running with a broom between your legs," said Anbinder as a University of California at Berkeley player wearing a shirt that said, "Valdemort Went to Stanford" walked by. "We have injuries, though. It can be rough."

At least a handful of serious injuries were reported during the first day, which featured 80 teams from across the United States as well as Canada and Australia playing four games each on fields shaped much like hockey rinks. A Michigan State University player was taken for X-rays with a suspected broken collarbone.

Teams that won at least two games Saturday advanced to Sunday’s tournament play. The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Most games last between 15 and 30 minutes.

College club teams and community club teams, many composed of recent college graduates, play in one bracket for the title won last year by the University of Texas. Anbinder said Texas A&M and community club teams from Texas and California were Saturday’s top contenders.

Each game lasts until one team’s seeker, one player on each team doesn’t have to straddle a broom, captures the snitch, or a small ball attached to an independent player who is pursued on and off the field.

Points are also scored when other players throw balls between three elevated rings on each end of the field. But the team that catches the snitch usually finishes with the most points, thus winning the game.

"Nobody wants to be a snitch," said Virginia Commonwealth student Daniel Newton, who wore a bright yellow jersey that he teamed with a black bow tie and a headband with furry ears to distinguish himself from his pursuing combatants. "It’s a lot of running. It’s challenging."

Anbinder estimated that perhaps as many as 3,000 spectators would attend throughout the tournament’s two days. One of the regional qualifying tournaments for the nationals was held at Rock Hill’s Manchester soccer complex.

Though most are friends and family of players, some area residents came out for a rare opportunity to watch quidditch.

Several schools from the Carolinas had participating teams.

Patty Hedrick of North Myrtle Beach found a window of time to bring her daughter, Shelly Jean, to Saturday’s play. The Hedricks are fans of the Harry Potter series. As locals, they paid discounted admission prices of $10 and $5.

"We’re only going to be here about an hour and 15 minutes," said Patty, who took a photo of USC team members. "But it’s worth it."

Canadian college students Emilee Harrell and Nina Patti arrived in Myrtle Beach around midnight Friday.

They’ll be back for class Monday morning at McGill University in Montreal.

Harrell and Patti might not get to the beach at all between flights. But they said that two mild spring days on the snowless green grass still would be a nice, if short and hectic, break from class.

After their McGill team split a pair of morning games, the women found a shady spot under a set of bleachers to lay and stretch out.

"We haven’t played on grass this year until today," said Harrell, during a break between games Saturday. "This is fantastic."

World Cup IIX could return to North Myrtle Beach in 2015. Anbinder said North Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill and Austin, Texas, are finalists to be the host.

"South Carolina, in general, has been fantastic," said Anbinder, who said his IQA logo, which resembles a witch on a broomstick, was recognized by a local resident while he was at an area grocery store. "We’ve received remarkable hospitality and support."