Brooms up, South Florida!
Quidditch is the broom-wielding sport made popular by Harry Potter and friends in J.K. Rowling's books and the subsequent series of eight hit movies. Sixteen years after the first book was published, 80 teams from throughout the country are keeping the magic alive.
"I knew of quidditch from Harry Potter, but I never knew it was an actual sport until my friend told me to try it out," said FAU team president Kevin DaSilva, 21, of Coral Springs. "You throw or catch with one hand and you're running with a broom in between your legs. It's way different. It's weird at first, but you get used to it."
The co-ed game is a cross between rugby and dodgeball, involves four active balls on the field, and has more twists and turns than the Potter book plots. It leapt from the world of wizards into the 21st century of "Muggles" (or unmagical people, in Potter speak) in 2005, when students at Middlebury College in Vermont adapted an earthbound version and created a team.
More than 160 college teams and independent club teams competed for a spot in the World Cup, hosted by the International Quidditch Association, which is based in New York City (not Hogwarts). Overall, there are about 250 active teams globally that are registered with the association, with players ranging from teenagers up to their 40s.
"Our whole group got addicted to it from the first day of playing,'' said Alex Benepe, 26, who was a student at Middlebury at the time. "There is no time out. There are no downs like in football. Once the game starts, the referee yells, 'Brooms up!'"
For the uninitiated, the game is played seven-on-seven with three ring-shaped goals on each side of the field. Players shoot or catch with one hand while using the other to clench a broom between their legs.
"It's a one-handed game. It adds a challenging element. It's sort of like dribbling in basketball," said Benepe, who no longer competes on the field but organizes the Quidditch World Cup through the IQA.
The games run between 20-30 minutes, with nine matches playing simultaneously.
Benepe thinks the game has translated into the real world because people want "to try something new and exciting and it has something for everyone. You can come from different sports backgrounds and be good at this.
"A lot of people come for Harry Potter but they stay for the sport."
Players represent a mix between Potter fans and athletes who enjoy running and the endurance the game requires. Some wear capes, colored goggles and oversized Harry Potter glasses during matches.
"It's a ragtag group of kids,'' said Ali Fishman, 21, president of the UM team, which regularly ranks in the Top 10 nationally for quidditch.
The school has 24 people on its team. "It's the dorks and the nerds and the athletic kids, it's a melting pot of people," added Fishman, of Coral Gables, whose team has doubled the number of practices to four leading up to the World Cup.
"It's way less dorky than people think it is,'' said Nina Gomez-Fernandini, 19, of Fort Lauderdale. She said she was recruited for the team because she has a black belt in karate.
"They needed a more physical girl, so we would have a better defense, because you do get pushed around a lot," she said. "Our team is more into the athletics. We are way more competitive. That is our drive."
This isn't a game for prissy wizards. Collisions abound on the field. There's a lot of full-on body contact and war stories to tell.
That — and the fact that the game is co-ed — appealed to Samantha Cossin, whose team, The Owls, is named after the FAU mascot.
"We've broken arms,'' boasted Cossin, who dislocated a shoulder during a match in Louisiana last year.
"Anyone can play and I think that's the cool part. They don't segregate you by age, gender or collegiate status. You don't have to be in a class," added Cossin, 22, of Plantation, a senior majoring in behavioral science.
"I like the fact that I could lower my shoulders and run into a guy,'' she said. "It's kind of like lacrosse in the sense that you have to hit someone to get past them. It's kind of like basketball in the sense there is an offense and a defense. It takes a lot of elements from sports that people already know how to play."
Leading up to the tourney, the FAU team, which has 15 players, practiced three times a week on the lawn in front of the freshman housing building in Boca Raton. But they didn't use regular brooms, which have snapped during practices. Instead, they trained with white PVC pipes.
Sometimes, magical things result from quidditch. Cossin, for example, met her boyfriend during her first practice.
"During our warmup run, I was passing him and he tripped me like elementary school. I looked at him. 'Seriously?' and he said, 'I don't like the fact that you can run faster than me…
"We've been dating for a year and a half."
For more information, go to worldcupquidditch.com.
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How to play quidditch
The offense, called chasers, try to score with a quaffle (volleyball) or tackle opposing chasers to gain possession. The defense, known as beaters, try to shoot opposing players with bludgers (dodgeballs) to knock them out of play. At the same time, one player acts as a golden snitch, which in the books is described as a small golden ball with wings that flies around.
In the real world, the snitch is a fast-running player wearing a tail (by way of a fabric fastener), and seekers — one from each team — try to snatch it off his or her shorts to end the game and win extra points.
The snitch, usually a cross-country runner or acrobat, can do anything from climbing trees and fences to using wrestling maneuvers to avoid being captured.
Players must try to catch the snitch using one free hand while the other clenches a broom between their legs (to mimic that they're flying like the characters in the books).
The game ends when the snitch is caught, giving that team an extra 30 points.
Source: International Quidditch Association