Quidditch players seek to prove wizard game is true muggle sport

The 2016 US Quidditch Cup tournament

​The top 60 quidditch teams from around the country descended on Columbia, South Carolina to determine the sport's 9th national champion during the US Quidditch Cup at Saluda Shoals Park, Saturday, April 16, 2016. (Video by Gerry Melendez)
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​The top 60 quidditch teams from around the country descended on Columbia, South Carolina to determine the sport's 9th national champion during the US Quidditch Cup at Saluda Shoals Park, Saturday, April 16, 2016. (Video by Gerry Melendez)

Muggles and broomsticks and snitches, oh my!

If you’re thinking quidditch is just a game played by nerds running around with sticks between their legs, think again.

And if you’re thinking, “Quidditch? Huh?” then think of this as a beginner’s guide to the sport (yes, it’s totally a sport) introduced in author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series of books.

Proving the sport’s ever-growing popularity, thousands of players and spectators from around the country have come to Columbia this weekend for the U.S. Quidditch Cup. Pool play opened for 60 college and community teams Saturday, to be followed by bracket play and the championship Sunday.

When people hear about quidditch, “they think it’s just going to be a bunch of nerds tackling each other,” said 20-year-old Mark Adamko, a member of the Rutgers University team. “Nope!”

“Well, it is,” said his teammate, 27-year-old Oscar Puente. “But they’re athletic nerds.”

In the human version of the wizard game, the basics of quidditch are:

▪ Chasers score points by throwing the quaffle through one of three hoops on each end of the field. The hoops are are guarded by a keeper, who can also score. But beaters throw bludgers at chasers to try to make them stop what they’re doing. Finally, each team’s seeker tries to catch the snitch to end the game.

▪ Oh, and keep your stick between your legs.

▪ And the team with the most points wins, of course.

Simple, right?

More simply, forget the lingo and think of quidditch as a cross between rugby, tag and dodgeball, with a little bit of basketball, soccer, lacrosse and football thrown in, too.

“At first, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous and the stupidest thing in the world. I told my friend, ‘I will not play a sport where I run around with a pole between my legs,’” said Amanda Dallas, the 25-year-old assistant captain of the New York City Warriors community team. Since joining a quidditch team at New York University as a student, Dallas has played the sport for five years.

“There’s so much more to it than other sports because there’s so many different games happening within one game,” she said. “It’s not boring.”

To the uninitiated, quidditch appears at first to be a fast-paced game of chaos – people running, balls flying, and what the heck is a “snitch”?

But with experience, it becomes clear that true strategy and immense athleticism are key tenants of quidditch play.

“The big thing is definitely the physicality,” said David Hoops, a 23-year-old Ohio State University graduate playing for the Bowling Green State University team. Hoops was a three-sport high school athlete before joining the quidditch team at Ohio State while he studied there.

“Seeing someone get lit up like they’re playing football is definitely fun,” he said. “But there’s also the aspect of basketball – watching the quaffle (scoring ball) move really quickly, which is always really cool to see.”

Quidditch has many of the trappings of traditional sports. There are jerseys, fans, referees, passing and tackling, bandaged limbs and even trading cards. And it’s taken every bit as seriously by its players and spectators as is almost any mainstream sport.

But other than the fact that its players must hang onto a stick between their legs throughout play (to honor the original wizard version of the game, in which players fly on their broomsticks), perhaps the most unique element of quidditch is that it’s a full-contact sport played by men and women together.

The co-ed nature of the sport speaks to the overall camaraderie of quidditch culture, said Marge Jacobs, who traveled from Rochester, N.Y., to see her 21-year-old son, Brendan, play on the Rochester Institute of Technology team.

“They love the game,” she said. “And afterward, it’s the best part. ... They hug, they network. It’s just so much fun.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Quidditch glossary

Muggle – A non-wizard. In other words, you.

Chasers – Players on each team who try to score points by kicking or throwing the quaffle through a hoop.

Keeper – One player on each team who guards the team’s three hoops from the other team’s chasers.

Beaters – Defensive players on each team who throw bludgers at opponents to disrupt them.

Bludgers – Multiple balls used by beaters to disrupt other players. If a player is hit by a bludger, he or she must drop any other ball they are holding, return to their side and touch one of their goalposts before re-entering play.

Seeker – One player on each team who chases and tries to catch the snitch to score points and end the game.

Snitch – A neutral runner dressed in yellow with a tail attached to the back of his or her shorts. The snitch comes into the game at the start of the 18th minute of play and tries to evade capture. Once a seeker catches the snitch, the game is over. Catching the snitch is worth 30 points. The team with the most points wins.

Quaffle – A volleyball that is kicked or thrown through hoops to score points. There is only one quaffle in a game. Each goal is worth 10 points.

Source: U.S. Quidditch

If you go

The U.S. Quidditch Cup continues Sunday with bracket play at Saluda Shoals Park, 6071 St. Andrews Road, Columbia. Games begin at 9 a.m.

Single-day admission is $12 for children 3-12 years old and $20 for adults.