A game that’s out of this world
This is a big week for fans of Harry Potter, the bespectacled wunderwizard of J.K. Rowling’s multibillion-dollar fantasy world. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,’’ the final movie of the wildly successful series, debuted on London screens last week. Potter fans, some likely sporting full quidditch regalia, will queue up outside Bay State theaters late Thursday night for the midnight opening here in the US.
Kristina Moy, who played quidditch for three years at UMass, will be in line with friends and former teammates to see the movie at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley. Originally from Brighton and a Wellesley High grad (2006), Moy remains a committed quidditcher, especially in her player recruitment role as Northeast regional director with the International Quidditch Association.
“What is quidditch?’’ Moy mused late last week while speaking on the phone from her home in Sunderland, near Amherst. “Well, the best comparison is probably rugby . . . it’s like playing rugby while holding a broomstick between your legs.’’
Go ahead, laugh, because humor is part of the game’s creed and infrastructure, if not its full-muggled mantra and being. Through the centuries, quidditch has been the game to play at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where a newly arrived Harry instantly became a big man on the make-believe campus when he gobbled up the Golden Snitch, the walnut-sized ball of flying whimsy with elongated hummingbird-like wings that is the prized catch of every quidditch match.
When two quidditch teams meet, they field seven players aside and, along with all the ball tossing and catching, capturing the Snitch is at the center of the game. You don’t have to be a Potter fan or accomplished quidditcher to fall head-over-broomstick in love with a sport aimed at corralling a Snitch. Heck, until recently, the wizards at the FBI ran helter-skelter all over the world trying to catch famed snitch James Bulger for 15-plus years. Who didn’t enjoy that game?
In real-life quidditch - that is, real life that imitates the fantasy and wizardry of Hogwarts quidditch - the Snitch is a human (yes, I know, bor-ing) who typically dresses in all-yellow attire. The real-life Snitch gets chased up, down, and across the playing field, his or her demise only met when a competitor successfully grabs the tennis ball that the Snitch keeps tucked in a tube sock attached around his or her waist. The Snitch is the only broomless, though often the most entertaining, participant on the field.
So, it’s rugby, with a broomstick kept propped between the legs with one hand, and a bit of flag football embodied in that tennis-ball-in-the-tube-sock thingy. Now, in full muggles disclosure, I’ve never witnessed a real-life quidditch match, but with all those eclectic elements in play, how in the world has Versus allowed this sport to fly under the radar? Rodeo over quidditch? C’mon.
Again, go ahead and chuckle, but quidditch is a growing sport in high schools and colleges across the country and around the world. According to Moy, here in the Cradle of Quidditch colleges such as Emerson, Tufts, Boston University, and Harvard have overwhelmingly embraced the sport. Emerson has no fewer than five quidditch clubs, according to Moy.
Tufts in November faced Middlebury, the Vermont school that was first to turn quidditch into a terra firma field game in 2005, in the Quidditch World Cup that was played at the DeWitt Clinton Park in Manhattan. A total of 46 colleges participated. Middlebury won the Cup, even though Tufts captured the Snitch. Now that hardly seems sportsmanlike, but I’m willing to bet that no one on the Tufts squad argued the point for fear of, you know, being instantly turned into an elephant and sent packing up the Merritt Parkway.
In November of this year, the World Cup will return to New York, this time to Randall’s Island, where some 80 colleges are expected to participate. Rowling has written her last Potter book. “Deathly Hallows: Part 2’’ is the final flick. But in the sports world, quidditch is gaining the kind of yardage that the XFL once dreamed about. Things are so hot in the quidditch world, in fact, that some college players have lobbied athletic administrators to get their game NCAA status.
“I hope that doesn’t happen . . . I don’t think it should be an NCAA sport,’’ noted Moy, saying that she echoed the sentiments of the IQA commissioner, Alex Benepe, who helped make the fantasy game a reality during his days as a Middlebury student. “I mean, the way the game is now, we can change it. We’re already in our fifth version of the rulebook. We can add what we want, take out what we want. If it ever became an NCAA sport, then it becomes unoriginal.’’
Now that’s just the kind of thinking that made Hogwarts, Hogwarts. And besides, the NCAA has dealt in so much fantasy through the decades, it’s a good bet that quidditch would just get lost among the compliance officers and the rest of the sorcerers, thieves, and liars in big-time college sports. Really not a place where 10,000 men, or women, of Hogwarts would care to be found.
Quidditch, in case you think this is a sport for geeks and softies, allows contact, trapping, and tackling. Some of the rule changes were made, in fact, to limit injury, make play safer. Granted, everyone is required to keep one hand on the broomstick, so injuries typically are limited to sprains, bruises, and a split lip here and there (easily mended with a quick whip of the wand).
No telling how much of the story line quidditch will get in the final Potter flick. America will have to wait until Friday morning to find out if Rowling gives the game a rousing, fitting farewell, at least allowing the Golden Snitch a final buzz and bow.
To help promote the sport she loves, Moy plans to wear her quidditch gear while she stands in line at the mall Thursday night, and expects some of her friends will do the same. Brooms, she said, will be optional.
“When you’re out there playing,’’ said Moy, “it’s just about being active. It’s not so much that I’m playing in this parallel universe, you know, Harry Potter’s world. I just want to play. I just want to win. Yeah, it’s quidditch, but it’s pretty much like any sport.’’
Proof that all sports have their magic.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.