There is one thing the University of Maryland Quidditch team can't do: fly.
But only a strict Harry Potter constructionist would find fault.
Because, truth be told, none of the hundreds of other Quidditch teams across the country -- including those at Johns Hopkins, Salisbury, Harvard and Yale -- have been able to conjure up the wizardry needed to break the bond of gravity.
What they can't do in the sky, they do on earth, galloping up and down the pitch on broomsticks, dodging Bludgers and heaving the Quaffle while their seeker chases the elusive Golden Snitch.
We'll pause here to give you a moment to process that image. You are, after all, a Muggle, a non-wizard, and these gentle souls understand it takes time to grasp the concept of earthbound Quidditch.
Quidditch -- or at least the non-aerial version adapted from the J.K. Rowling books about young wizards whose skills include the ability to hover -- began on the campus of Middlebury College in 2005 and became organized two years later. It is a lacrosse-like game played with multiple balls and goals, won by the seven-member team with the most points. The game ends when the player, called a seeker, captures the smallest of balls, called a Golden Snitch. There is a provision for overtime, but we won't go there.
"It's kind of lame, I'm not going to lie," says Deanna Edmunds, a sophomore, as she stands on the sidelines. "It's not really Quidditch. It's running around on brooms. But it's fun."
So much fun that more than 50 teams will meet in New York City next weekend for the International Quidditch Association World Cup, a lead in for the Nov. 19 premiere of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The Terps hope to make the first day's cut and meet Vassar, one of the better teams in the country, to avenge a loss in Philadelphia two weeks ago.
"My personal hope is that we do well and that the administration takes notice," says Sarah Woolsey, another sophomore. "It would be nice to have university recognition and support. We need a place to play and some equipment."
The first need is easy to fill. Twice-weekly practices are on McKeldin Mall, the grassy esplanade that occupies campus center.
But Quidditch is a equipment manager's nightmare. The goals are converted hula hoops atop PVC pipe stuck in buckets of concrete. The four game balls have been liberated from their soccer and dodge ball counterparts. The broomsticks? Even with the IQA discount, they cost $40 apiece so players practice astride brushless relics and sawed-off mops.
"We have to sell a whole lot of T-shirts," says Linda Chin, the senior who handles equipment and silk screens their red-and-black "Broom Shakalaka" souvenir shirts.
Walking on campus, it would be hard to distinguish the Quidditch athletes from, say, the Zombies vs. Humans aficionados. OK, team captain Logan Anbinder does look like Harry Potter.
But watch them play or engage them in discussion and you'll tap into their inner Potter. Most of the players have read the series more times than you have fingers, and some have tackled the books in Spanish, German and Hebrew.
To them, Quidditch "is Harry Potter come alive," explains Valerie Fischman, a senior.
They certainly didn't start last fall with much of a pulse, when just three players answered the call. But they ended the school year with about a dozen faithful. This year, 50 students turned out for practice and lots of students watched from the grass slope in front of the library.
"We were blown away. We all had goofy grins on our faces. It was empowering," says Edmunds. "And now we're going to the World Cup."
For their final tune-up, the Terps will travel to Baltimore to play Hopkins at 1 p.m. Sunday on the Freshman Quad.
In case you think this is an activity for bookworms and sissies, be aware: bruises and scrapes are the norm and emergency room visits are not out of the question. This is, after all, a game with a position called "beater."
Chin broke the pinkie of a male Hopkins player during the Brotherly Love Cup in Philadelphia. Sean Robert suffered a separated shoulder when he collided in practice with a teammate.
"I was a seeker chasing a snitch. So was another seeker. I heard a crunch, it went like this and then it popped back into place as I got up," says Robert, his right arm in a sling. "I have filed a formal complaint against gravity."
While he cannot suit up for the World Cup, the other Terps hope Robert, an aerospace engineering major, will be the one to overcome the main drawback to Quidditch.
"He's our secret weapon," says Fischman. "He's working on making us flying brooms."
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