They run with brooms between their legs. Chasers toss the Quaffle past the keeper. Beaters heave Bludgers. And the seeker relentlessly pursues the Golden Snitch.
Fans of Harry Potter will recognize these as the elements, more or less, of Quidditch. It’s a game that sprouted from author J.K. Rowling’s amazingly productive imagination and it features prominently in most of the Potter books. Wizards on flying brooms hurtle through the sky, trying to score goals by tossing the small ball called a Quaffle through a hoop. At the same time, they strive to avoid blood-thirsty opponents and midair collisions with bloody-minded iron Bludgers. And everyone hopes the seeker will catch the winged, golf ball-sized orb called the Snitch to take home victory.
How it translates onto the field
Muggles, which is to say wizard wannabes, can’t fly. Neither can iron balls. (Good thing.) So they play the next best thing with soccer balls and volleyballs: the much more grounded but no less physical Muggle Quidditch. On Saturday, hundreds of fans jammed the campus of Chestnut Hill College to see Muggle Quidditch in action at the Second Annual Philadelphia Brotherly Love Cup tournament. The tourney, drawing about a dozen teams from throughout the Northeast, was undoubtedly the best-attended event at the very first Harry Potter Weekend in Chestnut Hill.
Johns Hopkins Beater Audrey Zeldin, who like most of the young players grew up reading the Potter stories, concedes the obvious: an earthbound version of a fictional sport is whimsical, to say the least. That’s just fine with Zeldin, a 19-year-old sophomore double majoring in English and writing seminars. She recalls the words of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, who described Quidditch as “the most ancient and silliest of all wizard games.”
“When you tell people you play Quidditch, they think you must be nuts. They think you think that you have magic. But really, it’s a blast to play, incredibly physical. People don’t get that until they watch the games.”
A co-ed contact sport
How physical? Some of those kids managed to get pretty banged up, as witness one player for the Delaware Valley Dragons who collided with a Villanova opponent. She limped off the field, clasping her right thigh and blinking back tears.
There is no crying in Quidditch.
Caroline Stutz is a senior math major at Chestnut Hill College, whose Slytherin team won the day over a hard-hitting Penn State team. Introduced to Muggle Quidditch last year, this year she played the role of the Golden Snitch in three games and was on the receiving end of some of that robust physicality. Of course, Muggles have no access to such a thing as a winged golden ball. Instead, players dressed in yellow—firing a Nerf gun or wearing a bear hat and wielding a collapsed red umbrella—hurtle across the field toward the end of each game with a tennis ball in an athletic sock hanging out a back pocket. He who snatches the tennis ball from the slippery Snitch wins the game.
Some Snitches, Stutz acknowledges, are incredibly swift.
“Our team had three snitches last year who were in the Quidditch World Cup. (Yes, there is a world cup, overseen by the International Quidditch Association.) They train for that—they’re mostly athletes like wrestlers and gymnasts who are good at getting away. Personally, I’m not terrifically fast … but I enjoy throwing people off their brooms.”
Tournament turns into community-wide event
This year’s Brotherly Love Cup drew a much larger audience than the same event last year. The games were so popular that the campus parking facilities were filled to capacity, and other fans had to be bused in from nearby Mount St. Joseph Academy in on the college jitney. For this success, Stutz credits the skilled promotional efforts of the Chestnut Hill Business Association—known for the weekend as the Ministry of Magic.
The Potter promotion attracted hordes of shoppers over the weekend, together with their Hogwarts-attired, wand-waving kids, to the shops and restaurants along Germantown Avenue. Stores and eateries took on Potter-esque identities: The Night Kitchen Bakery became Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shoppe, selling fudgy chocolate frog cupcakes. The funky boutique El Quetzal transformed into The Phoenix Feather, offering phoenix feather (what else?) hair braiding.
On Sunday, scores of kids lined up in “Diagon Alley”—the narrow walkway between the “Valley Green-Gotts” Bank and the row of offices off West Highland Avenue—to have Dumbledore himself, together with the Sorting Hat, assign them to one of the four houses of Hogwarts. Most of them hoped to join their hero Harry in Gryffindor.
They weren’t disappointed.
Jeff Meade is one of the founding editors of irishphiladelphia.com.