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Originally published: 2013-07-22 18:21:26
Last modified: 2013-07-25 13:36:20

Behr: Quidditch looks like fun

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

I remember the first time I saw a Harry Potter movie.
I had not read the book, but had a mild interest in the movie, mostly because of all the attention it was getting.
While walking a mall on vacation, I stumbled upon the final ticket of a movie theater that was sold out with people dressed as wizards and who had probably memorized the first book written on the subject.
Two things stood out for me about the movie. The first was that having John Cleese take a role as a ghost was a nice touch to the movie.
If your place is going to be haunted with a ghost, hopefully it will have a sense of humor like Cleese.
The second was that the sporting event the wizards and witches played looked kind of fun.
Quidditch was the game Potter and his Gryffindor teammates played against Slytherin in the movie. Potter, a rookie in the game, ended up winning it by catching the "snitch," the hummingbird-like object that the players needed to catch in order to actually end the game and give the result to Gryffindor.
Capturing the snitch, which is worth 30 points, only ends the game. Scoring a goal by throwing a volleyball through one of the three scoring rings is worth 10 points each.
Nobody was dressed as a wizard or witch Saturday at Brookshire Park, but the quidditch they were playing was still competitive. I didn't see any spells or counterspells being cast, but there was a human "snitch" on the field, and plenty of players trying to recreate the game that looked like fun.
This event, billed the "Mid-Atlantic Fantasy Tournament," brought around 150 quidditch players to the High Country. There were enough players there to form 10 teams, which were randomly drafted by captains.
Some "muggles" may tell them to get a life.
I say, "Got any room for a 49-year old ink-stained wretch?"
It looked like fun to me. Quidditch is part dodgeball, part rugby, part basketball and part football. Strategy is needed for success since there are rules that can make a game turn quickly.
And then there is the broom.
Players cannot fly on brooms or the poles that are used in a pinch. If players could fly on the brooms, then chances are the military would find a way to use it.
But players must learn to run with the broom or pole between their legs without hurting themselves or each other. If they are hit with the ball by another player, then they have to run back to their own goal, touch one of the three scoring rings that are set up, before they can play again.
The game is more popular than one might think. An exhibition of quidditch was played as a preview of the London Olympic Games in 2012. Teams from the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain and France all participated.
Sarah Woolsey, who is the World Cup tournament director for the International Quidditch Association (Yes, one does exist. Look it up online.) said that the sport is popular on college campuses, and has spread to high schools and even middle schools.
The IQA has 167 teams, most which are based at college campuses in its league. The University of Texas is at the top of the league's standings, but I have no idea why.
And no, I am not making this up.
"I just fell in love with it," Woolsey said. "A lot of traditional sports don't have the same quirky community feeling. A lot of players stayed at opponents' houses last night and there is a sense of comradery in the community. It's really fun and it's interesting."
Saturday's event wasn't so much being played for any championship as it was to enjoy a game that is known mostly to Harry Potter fans, or folks who didn't necessarily see the movies or read the books, but liked playing the game anyway.
James Hicks, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, saw playing the game as a chance to stay competitive in sports and to stay fit. He was the keeper (the other positions are seeker, chaser and beater) on the United States team that played shortly before the Olympics.
Hicks was selected from 200 applicants to be on the national team, which went unbeaten in Britain and beat France in the finals.
"I was a baseball player and a basketball player," Hicks, 25, said. "When I got to the University of Maryland, I wanted to find something that would keep me busy outside of class and keep me in shape and be active on campus. I looked it up before I got there and I saw a video of it and I was like, 'That is pretty weird, but it's pretty cool, too.' It's pretty intense. I've been through two-a-days for baseball and long practices for basketball, and it's nothing compared to the conditioning I've gone through for quidditch. It looks easy to play, but it's very difficult."
It's highly improbable that the NCAA will be sanctioning quidditch any time soon, or at any time in the far future. By the time it comes up, Harry Potter the V may be eligible to play.
But it's a cool way to stay in shape and to have fun. It reminds me of playing ultimate Frisbee. It gets your blood circulating and it's more fun that competitive hot dog eating.
Quidditch -- coming to an ESPN station near you.
Too bad Harry Potter wasn't written in 1983, back when I was in college.