It was late morning on a recent Sunday and the frozen fields at Bowman Park in West Toledo were covered by more than an inch of snow. It was about 12 degrees with a wind chill of 7 degrees, making the act of being outside for any extended period an exercise in stubborn endurance.
And yet there were several teams of college students running around the park’s fields, throwing slightly deflated balls through hoops and at each other, tackling opponents as they neared the goals — all while holding a 40-inch “broom” (usually a PVC pipe or acceptable variation) between their legs. This is Quidditch, a new rugby-meets-soccer-meets-dodgeball sport played mostly at the collegiate level that’s exploding in popularity and which requires a surprising amount of athletic skill.
■ Three chasers: Players who attempt to score by shooting a ball — the quaffle — through a goal hoop.
■ Two beaters: Beaters run interference by trying to hit opposing players with a bludger (another ball).
■ One goalkeeper: Player protects the 3 scoring hoops and wards off bludgers and the quaffle (another ball).
■ Two seekers: Seekers on each team chase and try to capture the snitch.
■ One snitch: Snitch tries avoiding capture by the seekers.
■ Goal: A goal is worth 10 points, and the snitch, whose capture ends the game, is worth 30 points.
“People don’t realize the physical legitimacy of it,” said James May, a 19-year-old freshman from the College of Wooster, a small, private liberal arts school in northeast Ohio with its own Quidditch team. “It’s really brutal.”
The game is, of course, inspired by Quidditch in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the books, Harry and other wizards zip above a field on flying brooms and attempt to score on the opposing teams by passing balls through hoops and catching the quick and elusive golden snitch, a hummingbird-size ball with wings. In the nonmagical world of Muggles, Middlebury College in Vermont is credited with forming the first Quidditch team in 2005 in what can best be described as an early form of costume play (cosplay) as players dressed and acted as Harry Potter characters.
The sport has expanded to include more than 300 teams in the United States and in a dozen other countries with a governing body, the International Quidditch Association. Quidditch teams no longer dress in Potter costumes either, as the IQA distances the sport from potential legal issues. The IQA sponsors an annual World Cup championship tournament featuring 60 teams. To get the necessary ranking to reach the finals, teams must first compete in regional tournaments such as the Glass City Quidditch Classic, which was hosted by the Toledo Firebolts Quidditch team, a new club sport at the University of Toledo.
Naturally, adaptations to the real-life version of Quidditch were necessary, with none more interesting and entertaining than to the snitch, now represented as a crafty human whose goal is to avoid being caught by each team’s seeker.
Jacob Heppe, an 18-year-old freshman at Michigan State University, considered to be one of the better snitches in the Midwest, spent 15 minutes on top of a baseball batting cage in his first Saturday game to avoid capture, taunting the two seekers who were unable to climb up to get him with the brooms between their legs. For his first match on this Sunday, he slapped toy handcuffs on each of the seekers at the start of the game, as the teams kneeled down and closed their eyes. This pregame stance is to give the snitch a significant head start to run and hide and, in this case, mess with the seekers.
“You’re basically an entertainer for the crowd,” Mr. Heppe said. “You just find something to do that the crowd will just love.”
Snitch versus seekers, though, is just one component of the game and the main action is on the field of play, where teams get fairly aggressive with each other, including men tackling women, and with no pads or helmets.
That’s how Alex Scheer, a 22-year-old junior at UT, who founded and captains the Toledo Firebolts, met his girlfriend, a member of the rival Bowling Green State University squad. It was after one particularly bruising match between the teams that he asked her out.
“That’s what really made us click,” he said. “We have this commonness with this sport and that’s what really inspired our relationship. I think that’s really unique, that we can say we met playing the same sport against each other.”
Contact Kirk Baird at: email@example.com or 419-724-6734.