The fast-paced fantasy sport played by wizards and witches in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" universe has stepped out of fantasy and cemented itself as a trophy-winning competitive game at the University of Maryland.
“Most people in Quidditch know about Harry Potter, but we are athletes,” said Heather Farnan, who plays the position of beater. “We’re playing a contact sport.”
The University of Maryland Quidditch team is one of the best in the country, currently ranked fourth in U.S. Quidditch, the organizing body of the sport. Last year, the team won its fourth consecutive Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, and it’s going for gold at the 2020 US Quidditch Cup.
In the "Harry Potter" books and movies, the sport is played on flying broomsticks — something that's not exactly possible in the non-magical realm. Instead, players are required to keep a PVC pipe between their legs at all times.
“The stick between your legs thing is very awkward but once you get into it, it’s pretty easy to learn how to keep your legs together and catch with two hands,” said John Sheridan, team captain of Maryland Quidditch.
Whether you're swooping through the air or running around on a field, though: “You have to be athletic,” Sheridan said. “Being athletic automatically makes a good Quidditch team.”
A Growing Sport
Sheridan said the Harry Potter factor had no impact on him wanting to play Quidditch.
“I just wanted to play a sport,” Sheridan said. “And we’re pretty good too, so it’s always good to be part of a winning team when you represent the university.”
The U.S. Quidditch organization currently consists of 150 teams and about 3,500 players nationwide. It hosts regional championships and a national tournament, known as the U.S. Quidditch Cup.
They're not all university teams; some are adult teams and youth teams. In the D.C. area, George Mason is the only other university to have a team.
Mack Morgan, who's been playing Quidditch for four years, got interested in the sport when he saw the national championship featured on Snapchat.
“It came from 'Harry Potter,' but I think it’s taken a few steps to make it more of a legit sport rather than how it was in the beginning,” said Morgan. “It is very competitive now.”
The muggle (that is, non-magical) version of Quidditch began in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont. At the time, players showed up to play wearing capes and one player even used a lamp as a broom.
Players describe Quidditch as a combination of rugby, handball, lacrosse and basketball.
Each team has seven players on the field playing with one volleyball and three dodgeballs. The players are required to keep a pipe between their legs at all times.
A PVC pipe is used instead of a broom because it makes it safer for players to tackle each other in the full-contact sport. Players said no other sport could have prepared them for running with a pipe between their legs.
How to Play Quidditch
Scroll down to see more or view the full infographic here.
Source: International Quidditch Association
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBCWashington
“It looks pretty stupid, but it’s really strategic,” Farnan said.
As a beater, Farnan said she has to think about catching a ball with one or two hands, while staying on the pipe.
The aim is to get a slightly deflated volleyball (a substitute for a ball known as the quaffle in the books) into one of the opposing team’s three rings — while avoiding being hit by dodgeballs (bludgers in the books). Each quaffle through the hoop scores 10 points.
“There are multiple games inside of the game,” Sheridan said. “There’s a snitch that comes out and then it’s just another game inside another game. It’s a very in-depth sport.”
The snitch is a tiny winged orb in the books. In real-life Quidditch, though, the snitch is represented by a "neutral" player who has the ball attached to their waistband as they run around the field, trying not to get captured either team's seeker. The team that catches the snitch is awarded 30 points and ends the game.
Farnan said she would categorize the Maryland Quidditch team as Gryffindor, one of the houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for the team's bravery and heart.
“We are not shifty like Slytherins; we are not always smart like a Ravenclaw, but we are out there and we are giving it 110 percent all the time,” Farnan said.