Flying High

Muggle quidditch takes off at UBC

It seems unlikely that a fictional game in which the players fly among the clouds on broomsticks chasing a magical sphere called a snitch would ever make it as a college sport. But a generation brought up on Harry Potter and all things enchanting wasn’t about to give up on their dreams of rising above Muggledom.

A college in Vermont claims to have originated quidditch (for Muggles) in 2005. By 2007, enough teams had taken flight to hold a world cup competition and form the International Quidditch Association. Now, there are teams across Europe, North and South America, Asia and India. The first Canadian teams came out of Ontario in 2009, while UBC’s first team hit the metaphorical stratosphere in 2010 as an Alma Mater Society club. By 2014 teams had risen up in universities and high schools across the country. It’s a gender-neutral sport, one of its basic rules requiring that a team can field no more than four players of the same self-identified gender at a time.

While the game is, of course, tethered to the ground, it is remarkably faithful to its fictional roots. Two teams of seven (three chasers, two beaters, a keeper and a seeker) try to toss slightly deflated volleyballs, called quaffles, through two sets of three hoops situated at either end of a field. Only the chasers are allowed to score, while the beaters, armed with slightly deflated dodgeballs called bludgers, try to stop the opposing chasers by hitting them with their balls, rendering them momentarily incapable of flight. After 17 minutes, a player not affiliated with either team, the snitch runner (a player with a tennis ball in a sock, the snitch, attached to his or her back like a tail), runs onto the field. This player’s task is to avoid having the snitch snatched from their back by either team. A seeker from each team enters the field a minute later and tries to “catch the snitch.” Each quaffle tossed through a hoop scores 10 points for the chaser’s team, while the team whose seeker catches the snitch scores 30. The game ends when the snitch is taken from the snitch runner. The team with most points wins.

Oh. One more thing. Each player, except the snitch runner, is required to hold a small “broomstick” between their legs at all times (usually a PVC pole). Such a rule is no more ridiculous than making hockey players chase a little rubber puck while manoeuvring down an iced field on shoes with knife blades on the soles, or the arcane rules of any given sport. Think golf. Or basketball. In quidditch, the broomsticks lend a sweet sense of authenticity.

The game has grown considerably at UBC. “When the club started in 2010,” says Jade Kandola, a 3rd year biology student who has been playing since she came to UBC, “they used hula hoops on sticks spiked into the ground. Now we have fully functional teams and proper equipment, and many of our players have played on the national team.”

In 2016 the AMS team split in two, forming an additional squad as a Thunderbirds Sport Club (TSC). This team soared to the top and won the regional competitions that year, and came in fourth at the national competitions in Victoria. This September, tryouts were held for both teams and attracted more than 70 enthusiasts. Twenty-six of these will make up the TSC team, while the rest will play for the AMS team.

The TSC team, flying under the T-Bird banner, is the more focussed, competitive group. “We tend to get the stronger players,” says Gloria Cuthbertson, a 2nd year English student “Also, our practice schedule is fairly intense. A lot of our players come from rugby and soccer, and they take it quite seriously.”

The AMS team is more community focussed. “You don’t have to be a student to play for the AMS team,” says Kandola, “so we have to be a little more relaxed with our practice schedule. Some of our players have already graduated from UBC and just want to keep playing.”

Still, quidditch is a vigorous, demanding sport, regardless of which team one joins. “It’s really intense,” she says. “It’s not a bunch of nerds running around on broomsticks. It’s athletes trying to win. You get a huge competitive rush when you’re on the field. Also, there’s the social aspect of the sport. You get to meet an amazing variety of people from all faculties and sports.”

But what happens when students who haven’t been exposed to Harry Potter come along in the next few years. Will quidditch appeal to them? “We have new players who’ve never read any of the Potter books,” says Cuthbertson. “They’re attracted to quidditch because they see what a great sport it is.”

In the Harry Potter universe, Quidditch is a fast-paced, dangerous sport with students screaming around on powerful broomsticks high above the ground. In our universe, it’s slightly slower – but just as competitive and taken just as seriously by many players. In spite of being surface-bound, quidditch has taken off at UBC, and promises to keep growing. Big leagues, here we come!