Saturday, October 1, 2011

College Quidditch: Sport vs. Spectacle

Fourteen players, each on one knee, fix their gazes on the ground, brooms by their sides. In the silence, the tension is palpable. Suddenly, the whistle blows; the players mount their brooms, and charge into the fray.

In 2007, the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA) was founded directly following the first ever intercollegiate Quidditch match. Since then, it has seen a tremendous rise in support, and is now the International Quidditch Association, composed of over 1,000 teams from more than 13 different nations. But what exactly is Quidditch?
Based off the sport of the same name from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, “Muggle” (non-magic) Quidditch follows many of the same rules as its fictional counterpart, including the necessity of being mounted on a broom during gameplay, along with three different balls on the field at once.

For those unfamiliar with the fictional game, it is played on flying broomsticks with seven players on each team: three Chasers, who attempt to score in the opponent’s goals (of which there are three); a Keeper, who guards the goals; two Beaters, who both protect their team from (and attack the opposing team with) a ball called the Bludger; and a Seeker, who has perhaps the most important job on the team: finding and catching a small golden ball known as a Snitch (which ends the game and awards points to the team that catches it).

In the Muggle variant, there are seven positions on each team, including an independent “Snitch;” a player who runs around the field evading capture in lieu of a magical flying ball. Dodge balls and volleyballs are used as substitutes for the other balls used in the game. All schools come together every fall for the “Quidditch World Cup,” an enormous tournament that spans across two or three days.

Quidditch is a sport that has won the hearts of millions, due to its deep rooted connections into the Harry Potter universe, and there are many who consider the game to be a real sport outside of the books. However, there are people out there who see it as nothing more than a spectacle, or a goofy stunt. As an amateur player of the game itself, I’ve always found myself wondering if it is something that will ever be able to transcend beyond a collegiate sport. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Rose Pleuler, co-captain of the Park Street Pulverizers, one of Emerson College’s teams in its “House League.”

Here is what she had to say:

Ryan O’Connor: So Rose, how long have you been playing Quidditch?

Rose Pleuler: I'm beginning my third year playing Quidditch, I started September of my freshman year.

RO: Have you ever played any other sport besides Quidditch? If so, how would compare it to Quidditch, as far as practicing and training goes?

RP: Before high school I played youth league soccer, from age 8 to age 15. Soccer is my family's sport, all three of my siblings are currently involved in a soccer league. I use my experience and knowledge of soccer a lot when it comes to training in Quidditch. Because my team (Park Street Pulverizers) is part of a house league, the training process is generally less rigorous than the regimen for the World Cup team. Last year we practiced once a week and had games on Sunday afternoons. Gym time and running was encouraged but not required. My experience on soccer teams was generally much more rigorous athletically. That said, this year my co-captain and I are planning on training much more seriously. While we still only anticipate practicing with equipment once a week, we plan to organize group runs and gym time, as well as training harder during our weekly practices.

RO: What does the average Quidditch practice consist of?

RP: The general run-down of a Pulverizers practice: Set up equipment. Run and then stretch, discussing the plan for the day, tactics, strategy, overall goals. Pulverizers pride ourselves on being a fairly democratic group, and I as a captain encourage other players to speak up about their thoughts on the game. I think it's important to let players discuss strategy largely because being able to articulate their thoughts on the game improves their playing on the field. From there we usually set up two different drills simultaneously, passing/weaving/shooting drills for chasers and aggression/accuracy drills for Beaters. Then we often put the drills together for one big monster drill - Quidditch is a chaotic game, and it would show a misunderstanding of the sport to let the chasers or beaters practice in a vacuum for too long. Drills that show the whole scope of the game going on most accurately reflect actual gameplay and will be the best resource for a player. Sometimes we scrimmage at the end of a practice but not always.

RO: I've personally seen Quidditch games in which players are literary knocked off of their brooms. Would you say that the game is just as rough and serious as many major league sports?

RP: Quidditch is a rough sport. Because it is co-ed, because defensive equipment (shinguards, mouth guards) aren't required, and because in the past it has always been advertised as such. However, the newly drafted IQA rulebook has much more extreme penalties for aggressive gameplay than ever before, largely due to the number of injuries sustained in gameplay over the last two years. Some players in ECQ (Emerson College Quidditch) may think that the roughness of Quidditch is a fundamental element - I disagree. The rules of Quidditch and how it is played is in a period of change and development. I welcome it. I do not think that Quidditch has reached its maximum capability to operate as a naturally viable sport yet. I think a lot of this is due to unnecessarily violent gameplay. As Quidditch develops, I believe gameplay will and should always remain aggressive, but I do not believe it should be violent.

RO: Unless I am much mistaken, this will be your second year as Captain for the Park Street Pulverizers. Has it ever been an issue for you to find students willing and enthused to play Muggle Quidditch?

RP: The ECQ Combine was this Sunday, which is basically another word for tryouts. That night, the five house league teams drafted over 100 new players. I am welcoming over 20 new players onto a team that only had 17 players before the draft. I don't think Quidditch is going to lose its novelty any time soon. I think it should be noted though that although I drafted something like 23 Emerson students onto my team, I expect at LEAST 5 (but probably up to 10) to drop by the second game of the season. The Pulverizers are first and foremost an athletic organization. Many of us are Harry Potter enthusiasts, but that's not really why we play. We play to win. Although I have never and would never ask for someone to leave my team based on physical ability, people have left the team realizing the sport wasn't for them.

RO: I happen to know that 2 years ago, Emerson came in second place in the Intercollegiate Cup. Did Emerson play in the Cup last year?

RP: Emerson College's World Cup team placed fifth in the world I believe.

RO: Did you play in either of the games? With Emerson's multiple teams, how is it decided which team plays in the Cup?

RP: The World Cup team have their own tryouts a week after the ECQ Combine. A limited number (something like 20) of students are drafted onto that team. World Cup players continue to play on their designated house league team, with no issues of timing. World Cup practices on Sunday after the house league games. I'm not on World Cup, though I went to Middlebury my freshman year and then to NYC my sophomore year to support ECQ. They're playing November 12 and 13 this year at Randall Island, and I plan to go then as well.

RO: Now that the IQA (International Quidditch Association) has moved from Intercollegiate to International as of 2010, what are your thoughts on having teams from around the world all competing and playing together?

RP: It's pretty surprising. I'm not sure what teams abroad are in IQA though, besides McGill. Does Canada even count?

RO: With more and more people gathering to play Muggle Quidditch, do you think that it will ever reach the rank of Major League?

RP: To be perfectly honest, I don't see Quidditch ever being recognized as a "real" sport. Don't get me wrong: Quidditch is a sport. Quidditch is a real sport, whatever that even means. The only way I see Quidditch being really recognized in a major league kind of way is if we got rid of the broomsticks. In the Harry Potter books, of course it made sense that they existed. In "Muggle" Quidditch, the broomsticks serves as something that furthers the spectacle of Quidditch rather than the sport. It has very little effect on actual gameplay, there are a couple of small rules in the rulebook about it. I think the sport would in fact improve without the broomsticks. I am always in favor of Quidditch moving toward sport and away from spectacle, but I'm sure this is an extremely unpopular opinion at this time.

RO: What advice do you have for students who want to start a Quidditch team at their own school?

RP: My advice: Buy a rulebook! Treat it like any other sports team. The two biggest problems for a school starting a new team is: 1. understanding the rules and how the game is most effectively played and: 2. building equipment. Emerson's had a growing league for several years now and I still feel our equipment design can improve.

Despite its constantly growing fan-base, Quidditch seems to be a game that falls short of being considered an actual “sport” in the eyes of many. With gimmicky aspects, such as the unwieldy broomsticks, it is admittedly hard to be taken as seriously as some people would like. That being said however, I can tell you with confidence that you will always be able to find me, along with hundreds of others, down at the Quidditch Pitch, cheering for my favorite team as they race down the field.

There are several other schools in Boston that have IQA Quidditch teams, including BC and Harvard. For more information on Emerson Quidditch, you can visit their site at or the ECQ Facebook page at

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