Take me out with a Bludger: An afternoon with Marquette’s Quidditch team
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On a crisp fall Sunday afternoon, the bleachers of Marquette University’s Norris Park were filled with the usual suspects: friends of the players; parents and relatives; a few curious onlookers. But none of the usual sports equipment was anywhere to be found. The teams took the field with brooms between their legs. One of the players had a sock stuffed with a tennis ball wagging from the back of his shorts. Marquette faced off against Northern Illinois University not in the sport of kings, but in the sport of wizards. The name of the game was Quidditch.
Quidditch is, of course, the fictional sport made famous by the Harry Potter media conglomerate. The sport made the jump to real life in 2005 at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Much like Facebook, it was primarily a New England college concern before likeminded Potter fans who were bored with the usual intramural sports found out about “Muggle Quidditch.” But most fans, thanks to the lack of a pro level of the sport sponsored by Swiffer and Hoover, simply refer to it as Quidditch.
This version of Quidditch differs slightly from the books, above and beyond the lack of actual flying brooms. The brooms here are used when a player is in play. Players must “ride” their brooms, which means they must learn to run at full gallop with a stick between their legs. The main ball, called a Quaffle, is used to score points by being chucked through the opposing team’s hoops. The Bludgers are repurposed dodgeballs that are used to send players back to their goal rather than knock them hurtling to their death from their sky-bound broom. The biggest changes are the rules of the Snitch. The books have the Snitch as a game-changer worth 150 points, making the rest of the game seem almost irrelevant. Here, catching the snitch does end the game, but only awards the catcher 30 points.
The teams in Sunday’s match were the Northern Illinois University Nargles and the Marquette University Golden Eagles. Because the Marquette team is sanctioned, it was unable to pick a Potter-inspired mascot. (The Nargles are one of four teams with the same name, according to the International Quidditch Association.) The head referee for the match was sanctioned by the IQA, and the equipment seemed more or less regulated. The Nargles used PVC pipe for their brooms, while Marquette used brooms that looked more like the real deal. The Bludgers and Quaffle were under-inflated balls that offered a better grip. Both teams expressed a hope for donations from any well-heeled Potter fans to help upgrade equipment.
The game plays like a mash-up of lacrosse, rugby, dodgeball, and flag football. The throws are one-handed because the players have to keep one hand on the broom. The Bludgers operate as a shot clock to keep the Quaffle moving. Players clash into each other at full speed and can get locked onto the ball easily. The Snitch arrives later in the game, which adds an element of uncertainty even if the game is out of reach. It feels like those moments when some drunk guy runs onto the field and security tries to tackle him—except in this case, it has a bearing on the game.
Fans of the team will be happy to know Marquette swept the Nargles 150-50, 150-0, and 160-40. Three matches took place to allow both teams to fulfill their requirements for school funding. It was a fast-paced and fun way to spend a fall Sunday afternoon. “This is my first Quidditch match,” said onlooker Nisba Franecki, 8. “I think it will be fun because it will keep moving. Other sports take too long.”