Brains and Brooms: SFU Marauders get ready for Quidditch Global Games
When you first heard Quidditch was a real sport, you might have laughed. (Maybe you're hearing this for the first time now, and maybe you're chuckling as you finish this sentence.)
No worries... it's a pretty typical reaction, but don't let your intuition be your first impression.
"When people first hear you play Quidditch, they like to snicker," says Calvin Ng, a player and coach with Simon Fraser University's Q team, and its social media correspondent. "They think of people dressing up in robes with capes, just running around just willy nilly.
"But when they see it, it's full contact."
Based off the famous, loved, and fictional sport from Harry Potter, Quidditch is now a real, living, breathing thing.
It's nine years old, celebrating its sixth year in Canada, and is now formally known as Muggle Quidditch.
It's also coming to Burnaby in July, when B.C. will host the Quidditch Global Games – a showdown between Canada, the United States, the UK, Australia, Mexico, Italy, France, and Belgium.
(The Games will take place on July 19, 2014 at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West.)
And the game, just like you knew it from The Philosopher's Stone and since then, is fast and physical.
"That's definitely what motivated me to start the team," says Christine Konrad, founder and president of SFU's Quidditch team. "I watched it. It was serious. It was intense.
"I was positive somebody would get impaled by a broom but it never happens."
Ah yes, the broom. The biggest hurdle to get over for new players, both literally and mentally. Players in the real-life Quidditch still have to run around with the broom between their legs, which can seem a little silly to newbies at first, or maybe a little embarrassing.
But any of that quickly washes off once the action's underway, they say.
"Some of the more experienced athletes from other sports, they have a bit of hesitation," says Ng. "Why do I have to run around with something between my legs? But now, when they see how serious people take it, the broom does not become a factor."
"It is very silly and it is very fun," says Konrad. "I think that's why you draw a very unique crowd. They're not too stuck up to run around with a broom between their legs."
Every Quidditch team is made up of seven players on the field at one time, not including the Snitch. The positions, as you may already know, consist of Chasers, Beaters, Keepers, and Seekers.
Konrad is a Chaser, Ng a Beater.
SFU's team practices twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays at the school's Burnaby campus.
The Global Games are actually more of a World Cup (and yes, there's a World Cup of Quidditch, too). The Games are a battle between a league of nations, while the World Cup features a mix of university and club teams.
Players have to tryout for Team Canada between now and the tournament's start. Most of the details haven't been released yet, says the SFU team, but tryouts are expected to begin in May.
"Individual members might make it onto the team," says Konrad.
"The rest (of us) will be there, just enjoying the epic-ness of the tournament."
But the brains and brooms behind SFU's team are just happy to have the sport's premiere tournament in their backyard, hoping the Games will spur more local, regional interest in the sport and, at the very least, some legitimate attention and awareness.
And perhaps it will be known as a real sport – which it is – and not just the thing from Harry Potter – which it also is.
"I think it's going to be a lot of good press for Quidditch in general, but also for our team, to know that SFU has a team and Quidditch is a legit thing," says Konrad. "It will be really cool if a lot of people come out to watch it."
Konrad says she also hopes the sport's showcase will lead other universities in the area to start their own teams.
"To have something like that on their home turf and to have someone to play against... maybe they'll think, Why doesn't Cap(ilano) have this? Why doesn't Langara have this?"
Konrad herself founded SFU's team in September 2013, after watching UVic and UBC play each other.
"It just looked like so much fun and I thought, SFU had to have one, too," she said. "It's a new thing for us, and I think it's gone really well."
While SFU is "still figuring out all (its) strategy," says Konrad, they've played against UBC, UVic, and Western Washington University, and they're hoping to take their team on the road to compete in Idaho and California, as well.
"Those other three teams we've played have been around for a couple years," she says. "For a first-year team, we really hold our own."
So, how does it work, exactly?
Teams win by scoring 10 points – they get points when the Chasers throw the quaffle (a Quidditch form of a ball, really) through one of three goal hoops. Beaters try to peg players with their bludger. Keepers guard their goal posts from the Chasers' scoring attempts. The Seekers are out there to tackle the Snitch, and the Snitch (in the Muggle game) is a fast player, a neutral player (not belonging to either team on the field) who tries to run and evade the Seekers, but who can also throw his or her weight around, too.
If the Snitch is caught, the game is over and the Seeker that caught the Snitch has won Quidditch for his/her team.
Think hockey meets rugby and a little football... meets handball, dodgeball, and lacrosse. And, yes, you can think of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, The Boy Who Lived, and Expelliarmus, too.
The sport, of course, has its roots in pop culture, but it has grown in participation and as it strives for mainstream acceptance, those who play and have founded the sport of Quidditch have been divided into two factions: one wants it to be a serious, highly athletic sport, and that's it. You can leave that Comic-Con stuff at home. The other group, they play Quidditch because of Harry Potter, and they're drawn to J.K. Rowling's world as much as they are to the very real grass on the very real pitch.
And then there's a third group, it must be said, that loves Quidditch for both its athleticism and its Rowling-esque fandom.
"I'm of the camp that I came to Quidditch because I was a Harry Potter fan," says Ng. "I'd like to keep that connection between the sport and the movies, the books, and all that went along with it.
"I consider it a token of pride being part of such a huge legacy that J.K. Rowling left."
Where does Quidditch go from here? Well, it's almost a decade old, and it's growing rapidly. The sport started in 2005 with one club in the United States, says Konrad, and now an eight-nation tournament is coming to Burnaby.
The game is in 20 countries and it's "played in all the top schools" in the United states, says Ng. "Any Ivy League school you can think of has a Quidditch team," he says.
In Canada, the west is represented by university teams like those at UBC, UVic, and SFU – as well as club teams like the Burnaby Boggarts – and in the east you have powerhouse teams at schools like McGill, Carleton, as well as the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
(The Gee-Gees won the Quidditch Canadian Cup in November.)
"I've had a couple people say, Quidditch is what Ultimate (Frisbee) was a few years ago," says Konrad. "Clearly, Quidditch is a bit sillier than Ultimate. But our generation is the Harry Potter generation. We grew up with the books, right?
"It's fun to play. You can strategize, play, get better... I wouldn't be surprised if it sticks around and keeps growing."
What Quidditch also has going for it is its community.
It's not just about the intense fandom that follows anything flowing from Harry Potter. It's also the sport's makeup and its gender equality, and its acceptance of athletes from any background, any walk of life – from jocks to proud HP nerds and beyond.
"Quidditch is a full-contact co-ed sport, and I don't think any of the mainstream sports can say that," says Ng.
At all times, there must be two players on the pitch different from the majority gender of that team, whatever that gender may be and whatever gender the rest may be.
"And the IQA (International Quidditch Association) is LGBT-friendly, too," says Ng. "That's one of the big things that I try and sell people on. Yes, it may look silly or be a bit geeky, but it's full contact and we don't discriminate on anything.
"That's something more pro leagues are trying to grapple with right now."
Fact is, many sports have started out with smaller footings and goofier inceptions than Quidditch. Basketball started out with picnic baskets and no hole in the bottom, and it started out in Canada, oddly enough. Hockey started as a wacky alternative to figure skating, and the stick-swinging, ice-based northern pastime is still something of a novel matinee – a "nothing else to watch on Sunday" option – in Florida and Phoenix.
"The main thing is, try Quidditch out," says Ng.
Hey, why not?
And even if you're not that bold, British Columbia, you now have the chance to watch it first-hand.