By Shauna Segadelli
Players whiz around the field on broomsticks, shooting balls through hoops to score. Team rivalry at the World Cup is intense. Villanova’s team whoops and rallies around their captain, the team’s seeker. The play quidditch exactly the same way that J.K. Rowling paints for Harry Potter- except, well, muggles can’t fly.
Villanova’s Quidditch team has a two-year history, born alongside the school’s Harry Potter Club in 2009. Now a separate entity – though it shares Potter fanatics with the general club – Villanova Quidditch was denied status as a club sport in 2010. Now they are an official club, just like the school’s Skateboard Club and the Table Tennis club. (There’s even a Villanova Electronic Enthusiasts Club, whose mission statement reads: “We get together once a week to play video games in a safe and fun environment.”)
But Quidditch isn’t only for squares. “Players get hurt. It’s rough, and there are no pads,” says the team’s captain, Billy Greco. “You see a lot of broken collarbones. The chasers and seekers are basically playing rugby, but with dodgeballs being thrown at them.”
After practice, the team gathers the dodgeballs and volleyballs used as weapons and goal-scorers. They stack the broomsticks and dismantle the hula hoops attached to white plastic poles, the volleyballs’ aim for the last two hours. They practice a few times a week all year, with less frequency when it snows (“We want to play, but the field gets all muddy”) and more in anticipation of upcoming tournaments.
Villanova Quidditch enters four or five tournaments per year. This weekend, they headed to the Quidditch World Cup at Randall Island in New York, along with more than 100 collegiate teams. Billy tells me that there are even more teams than that nationwide- impressive, for a sport that was invented only five years ago.
Middlebury College in Vermont was “the first college in the country to develop a grounded, muggle-friendly game,” according to its website. Middlebury won the first 5 annual Quidditch World Cups, and remained undefeated in this time span. In fact, they remained undefeated until World Cup 2011 this weekend, where they were beat by the University of Michigan. And then in the first elimination round game, where they were ranked fifth in a final bracket somewhat resembling that of NCAA Basketball, the University of Michigan lost to the #32 team. Who was the #32 team? Villanova Quidditch.
According to Blaise Sceski, who played in that game, “Everyone on our team gave their all and left everything on the field. It was an epic moment and showcased just how talented Villanova’s team really is.”
But Villanova’s team has always been strong. In their first World Cup appearance two years ago, Villanova made 8th in a field of 21 teams. The next year, among 46 teams, Villanova placed fifth when they lost to the reigning champions, Middlebury, in a nasty game that tore one player’s ACL.
Unfortunately, this year, just fifteen minutes after the bloodied battle with the University of Michigan, Villanova Quidditch was stuck playing “a well-rested University of Pittsburgh team that was very well trained, very big, and very fast,” as Sceski describes them. They lost in a “fierce and physical game,” bringing their record in this tournament to 4-2, since they also lost in the first round to Michigan State in an “absolutely crazy game” plagued by “inconsistent refereeing” and injuries.
In March, Villanova Quidditch hopes to host its own tournament for the first time. Teams can only bring 21 players to a tournament, so they hold try-outs before each tournament appearance to make the final cuts. Throughout the season, 40 or so players show up at Villanova’s practices, according to Greco.
Teams field seven players at a time: three chasers, one keeper, two beaters, and a seeker. The chasers toss around a volleyball as the “quaffle”; putting it through one of the hula hoops earns 10 points. The hula hoops are guarded by the keeper. The beaters function as a sort of defensive line, aiming dodgeballs (“bludgers”) at the opposing team’s chasers. It is against the rulers for beaters to attack the opposing keeper or the snitch, but the seeker is fair game. The seeker is usually a cross-country runner or a wrestler, and he runs after the snitch. The snitch has a small ball inside of a sock, which is tucked into the back of his waistline. When a seeker grabs the ball from the snitch, his team earns 30 points and the game is over; if one team is more than 30 points behind, then, it is inadvisable for the seeker to go after the snitch. The snitch’s mobility has no limits- he can bike, hop on trucks, even run through buildings. “The snitches are crowd pleasers,” says Greco. “I’ve seen one pull out a red bull fighting capes for taunting.”
If Villanova hosts its March tournament, the team will need to buy a full set of “official brooms” to provide for visiting teams. They have a few of these sturdier, more expensive brooms now, but most often they play with ordinary household brooms. Equipment casualties are common in the dirty, fast, and dangerous sport.
Some players speculate that the roughness of quidditch scares off potential female recruits. Quidditch is a co-ed sport, but many teams resemble a boys’ club. Villanova has some brave exceptions. The status of these female players may soon be in jeopardy. “We are only a few steps away from being able to apply for NCAA status,” says Villanova beater Matt Goosherst. “If we start playing in stadiums and selling tickets, then get a season going, we can do it! The IQA (International Quidditch Association) already has enough schools.”
But if the sport became NCAA, would it lose its co-ed nature, a feature of the sport in the Harry Potter series? The current rulebook dictates that there must be at least two players of each gender on the field for each time. Since the sport was designed to be “grounded and muggle-friendly,” a little NCAA recognition is something for teams to look forward to. With institutional backing and the resources that come with it, maybe someday – someday – Villanova Quidditch can really take off in athletic flight.