Quest for Quidditch World Cup

By Sophia Coleman

Chicago may have to start planning for a new kind of summit and cast a Protego Horribilis spell, because, around this time next year, there could be tens of thousands of diehard Harry Potter fans coming together to watch the 2013 QuidditchWorld Cup.

What was once a sport reserved for wizards is now a full-fledged international sport modified for Muggles.

Started in 2005 by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe, two students at Middlebury College in Vermont, Quidditch is now sweeping the nation, one broomstick at a time. The International Quidditch Association now has almost 100 official teams in addition to dozens of others from England, Australia, Mexico, Canada and Finland.

Quidditch began as an intramural sport at Middlebury, and for two years was played among several teams within the school. It spread in 2007 when Middlebury hosted Vassar College in the first official Quidditch match, Benepe said. Thanks to heavy media coverage, the game spread to 15 other institutions. A road trip, during which Middlebury competed against seven schools, was covered by MTV, CBS and The Boston Globe. Soon after, 200 schools created their own teams.

“We wanted to try something fun and new in college,” Benepe said. “It was on a whim. Quidditch became way more awesome than we thought it was going to be.”

Benepe, who graduated from Middlebury in 2009 with a degree in art history, is CEO and president of the IQA and is now working on plans for the 2013 Quidditch World Cup VI. During the last five years, the tournament has been held in Middlebury, Vt., and New York and local enthusiasts would like it to be held in Chicago.

Benepe said this year the IQA changed Quidditch from a fall sport to spring, and in order to accomodate planning time, the Cup will take place in late March or early April.

The previous World Cup was held in November 2011 on Randalls Island just off Manhattan, a location Benepe said was great as a historic space but had drawbacks. There was no electricity or running water, so a lot of work had to be put in for the games to run smoothly. With approximately 100 teams and 10,000 fans attending the Cup, this year’s location must have the infrastructure and willingness to support the throngs of Quidditch fans, he said.

“Chicago does have a history of hosting large events and the city has wonderful spaces, so there’s very strong precedent for it,” Benepe said.

The Loyola University Quidditch team, known as the Loyola Luminos, has been working hard on its bid to get the World Cup to Chicago. The team recently released a promo video that showcases the city’s best assets and prime locations for the tournament.

Amanda Lofgren, captain of the Luminos, said they’d like to see the Cup hosted in Grant Park, but other potential locations include Millennium Park or Northerly Island.

“The city is being highly considered, [and] our video has the most ‘likes’ out of all of the other bids,” Lofgren said. “‘Likes’ aren’t everything, but we were told the social media outreach is key because the [IQA] wants us to be able to get volunteers and sell tickets.”

Loyola’s team began in spring 2010, according to Lofgren. Now the school has three intramural teams and one All-Star team ranked 66th out of 100 official teams in the league.

Longfren said practices consist of endurance training, necessary because of the time spent running on the field during a game. She said a huge factor is getting used to holding a broomstick while running because players are penalized if their broom touches the ground.

“We take drills from other sports, change them slightly and incorporate them into our practices,” said Erika Kropp, a Chaser for Loyola’s team. “A lot of our plays come from basketball or rugby.”

The real-life sport is not nearly as whimsical as it appeared in the “Harry Potter” books and films. There are obviously no flying broomsticks, no spells cast about and the sleek golden snitch is a speedy runner clothed in yellow. The quaffle, or the ball used to shoot through one of three hoops to score points, is a volleyball. The Bludgers thrown at opponents to knock them out are dodge balls.

The rules, however, are the same. There are seven players on each team. Three Chasers try to take a quaffle and score points while a pair of Beaters play defense. A Keeper defends the three goal posts—Hula Hoops attached to PVC pipes in Muggle Quidditch—and a Seeker who attempts to find the game-ending Snitch.

“There’s a lot of running and a lot of scoring,” said Shayla Johnson, Chaser and captain of the Illinois State Firebirds, which is ranked 21st in the league. “There are so many strategies and tactics involved, and you never know who exactly is going to win because of the Snitch.”

The Snitch can do whatever he or she pleases: tackle, push, shove, climb trees or find a good hiding spot. Snitches are encouraged to be goofy, and Johnson said there have been a few Snitches who have been known to wear tutus or do flips and cartwheels across the field.

While the game is comical at times—muscled men running with broomsticks in between their legs or people in yellow booty-shorts dodging a hoard of hungry Chasers—Johnson said it gets extremely competitive. Games typically last half an hour, depending on when the Snitch is caught. Johnson, a Beater, said to expect to see a few injuries during the game.

Michael Maldanado, a Chaser for the Loyola team, said last year a few team members received concussions and one girl hyperextended her elbow.

“It’s very intense and physical,” Maldanado said. “It’s similar to a rugby match.”

While athletic ability is a plus when it comes to Quidditch, Johnson said one of the great things about the sport is that anyone at any skill level is welcome to play. It is also one of the few sports that allows men and women to compete together.

There are also some common misconceptions of the game, for example that it is a form of roleplaying for Harry Potter fans. Johnson said this is not at all true and that some of the players have never read any of the books or seen the movies.

“Some people join because they like Harry Potter, but ultimately it’s because they want to be part of a competitive sport,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who is also the state representative for Illinois Quidditch, said she has a good feeling that Chicago could be picked as the site for the World Cup 2013.

“Chicago is a central location that will be easy for teams to get to,” she said. “The city also has a lot of sight-seeing. It’s a large city, but has a lot of small-town stuff 30 minutes out where teams can stay.”

Johnson went to the World Cup last year and said the energy on the nine fields was electric. Harry Potter imgery was played up to create a magical atmosphere like a scene from the books, with hundreds of colorful tents, participants dressed up and vendors selling broomsticks, wizardly treats and wands.

“Now that the franchise stuff is over, it’s cool that there is still something going on for the kids who did not grow up with Harry Potter,” Johnson said.

Benepe said the game is now very different from its beginnings. Now more serious athletes are involved, and many players have integrated new techniques and equipment, like wearing Under Armour gloves, to enhance the game.

Some people involved in Quidditch want the game to retain its inclusivity and Harry Potter origin, while others want it to become a serious sport with NCAA backing. Benepe said the game has to become more of a sport in order to survive but added there are ways to maintain the culture of the league through people who are dedicated and passionate.

There may have to be divisions created based on skill level in the future, Benepe said. A wide range of people play the game, from those who have never played sports before to Division I rugby players who love the idea of the complicated, endurance-heavy sport.

“It’s an extremely high-energy game,” Benepe said. “It’s really fun for spectators. With an actual marketing budget behind it, Quidditch could easily become one of the most popular spectator sports in the world.”