MIDDLEBURY, Vermont, U.S.A. – Fans of the bestselling Harry Potter fantasy series might have believed that Quidditch – a magical sport described in the books – only exists in the imagination. But they clearly haven’t met the Middlebury College Quidditch team.
In real life, Quidditch is played reasonably faithfully to author J. K. Rowling’s vision, minus, of course, magic.
At Middlebury College, where real-life Quidditch began 10 years ago, the game is open to students of all skill levels. Some are serious athletes, but others are just playing for fun. The rules say each side must have at least two players of each sex.
Practices and matches take place on a large grassy field in the center of campus. Goal posts – which are hula hoops positioned about six feet off the ground – are set at each end.
In a Quidditch game, there are seven players on the field at a time for each team. There’s the keeper, who plays a goalie-like role and three chasers, who try to get a volleyball called the quaffle through the hoop. Two beaters on each team bring elements of dodgeball into the game by throwing rubber balls called bludgers at other players to halt their progress.
If a beater successfully hits a player with a bludger, that player is out and must run back to their own goalpost and touch it before resuming play.
Perhaps most important of all are the seekers, whose job it is to find and catch the snitch.
At Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts, of course, the snitch is a golden, enchanted ball with wings, but at Middlebury, the snitch is a person. Middlebury’s snitch, Boone McCoy-Crisp, is dressed all in yellow, and attempts to avoid capture by either side’s seeker.
Teams get points by getting a quaffle through the hoop and more points for catching the snitch. Catching the snitch means snatching a sock, filled with tennis balls, that is tucked into the back of the snitch’s pants and hangs out like a tail.
When a seeker catches the snitch, the game is over.
In order to level the playing field, the snitch gets the opportunity to hide at the beginning of the game. All players must close their eyes while the snitch gets a head start.
Since there are no boundaries to the Quidditch field, things can get pretty absurd. In a match earlier this month, the snitch took refuge in a tree, and in games past his hiding places included buildings all over campus – even the chapel steeple!
In order to keep with the lighted-hearted spirit of the game – and simulate the flying on broomsticks that Harry Potter and his pals do when they play Quidditch – players are required to hold a broom between their legs at all times. Only the snitch is allowed to run without a broom.
Middlebury isn’t the only school with a Quidditch team, but it was the first. Students also play on school teams in Florida, Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, California,
Connecticut and elsewhere.
You may not see Quidditch in the Olympics anytime soon, but at Middlebury and other colleges that dare to embrace the magic, members of the Harry Potter generation are bringing their
childhood dreams to life.