As Harry Potter Era Draws to a Close, Quidditch Keeps the Magic Alive

As Harry Potter Era Draws to a Close, Quidditch Keeps the Magic Alive

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BERKELEY, Calif.—The pealing of bells on a Sunday afternoon usually involves churches and hymns, not the Harry Potter movie theme. But to a generation of Muggles raised on (and with) J.K. Rowling’s teenage hero, there was no mistaking the music wafting from UC Berkeley’s Campanile this weekend — or the game being played on Memorial Glade by college kids with brooms between their legs, bludgers in their hands, and a Big Game gleam in their eyes.

Such is the appeal of quidditch, favorite sport of the wizarding world, that the non-magical version has become an official part of the Cal/Stanford Big Game rivalry week. In the schools’ inaugural match-up, Cal’s well-organized team thrashed its less-established rival, leaving Stanford to wait until Saturday’s football game to seek revenge.

Meanwhile in New York City this weekend, thousands of spectators watched as Vermont’s Middlebury College, credited with inventing non-magical quidditch in 2005, beat out 46 colleges in 16 states to win the Quidditch World Cup (photo above).

Yet for all the high spirits, it was hard to escape the sense that an era is ending. Friday marks the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, the first installment of the film adaptation of the final Potter volume. Tickets to the first showing—12:01 a.m. on Nov. 19—are already sold out in thousands of theaters nationwide, and the movie site Fandango reported that sales are outpacing all previous Potter movies.

Madison White, an 18-year-old electrical engineering student who is Stanford’s quidditch co-captain, recognizes that it’s her own childhood she’s closing the book on.

“I grew up while Harry Potter was growing up,” she says. “He always felt like more than a book character to me. He felt like a friend."

White says that playing quidditch allows her and her peers—most of whom also spent eight years of their youth with Harry— to keep the magic alive.

After Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, she recalls, “All I could do was read the books over and over again. It's fun, but you always know how they're going to end. Quidditch is new and fun and keeps with the spirit of Harry Potter. You play with lots of people who love the books as much as you do—and you never know how it is going to turn out."

Angad Singh, a Stanford freshman studying computer science, can attest to Harry Potter’s universal appeal. He grew up in India, where he says Potter “was a really big deal. All my friends were into it. Someone translated one of the books into Hindi, but most everyone read it in English. When I got the email inviting me to join this team, I thought, 'Quidditch is cool. I'll do that.'”

Sean Robbins, a sophomore psychology major at Cal, has helped lead the quidditch movement in California. One of seven players on Cal’s inaugural team last winter, he and teammate Caroline Wurden recruited 40 new players this year.

“You don’t have to know the wizard lingo or wear costumes or know every word of the books by heart,” he says. “I love Harry Potter, but I’m not a fanatic. I actually haven’t read the seventh book. But I really enjoy the opportunity to play a unique sport.”

The non-magical version of the sport resembles a cross between rugby, basketball, dodgeball, and tag, with some track and field thrown in. The goals are homemade from hula hoops and PVC pipes. The brooms are from IKEA or the Dollar Store (during the Cal/Stanford matches, more than half of them snapped). Deflated dodge balls, which are easier to grab with one hand than fully inflated ones, are the “quaffle” (used to score points) and “bludgers” (used to knock out players on the other team).

The most creative Muggle modification involves the snitch— the tiny, golden, extremely fast, winged ball that players must catch to end the game. In the non-wizarding version, the snitch is a distance runner in a yellow shirt, gold leggings and a sweatband, chased by a “seeker” from each team who tries to steal the tennis ball tucked into a tube sock that dangles from his waistband.

In keeping with the vicious rivalry between the novels’ Gryffindors and Slytherins, Muggle quidditch is a full contact sport, safety gear not required. Bloggers covering the Quidditch World Cup in New York reported minor injuries in nearly every game, with two players being carried off the field on stretchers.
In the final moments of the Cal/Stanford match, Stanford freshman Michael Wintermeyer took a hit that, at first glance, looked like a broken arm. (It turned out to be a bad bruise.) “This sport is a lot more athletic and physical than you’d think,” he says.

Which may be one reason quidditch has managed to avoid seeming dorky—so far. At Cal, the team even includes a handful of fraternity brothers.

“It’s a totally different scene than my fraternity,” said Brett Goldstein, a junior majoring in cognitive science. “Most people in the Greek system are in a varsity sport. I thought quidditch was going to be a giant joke to them, but half the frat is coming today. Cal has a baseball frat. Maybe we’ll be the quidditch frat.”

At the end of the day, Cal won the best-of-three series to take home the Big Sweep trophy, a gold spray-painted oatmeal can with a snitch fastened on top.

“Harry Potter is about is friendship,” adds Cal freshman history major Les Lazar. So after the game, Cal players invited the Stanford team to join them for a special Monday screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I. Stanford invited Cal for a 2011 rematch on their campus.

As for whether quidditch will be a pastime for future generations, Stanford team captain White is hopeful, but not certain.

"My little sister is reading the books now, and she likes them because I like them, but I don't think she likes them as much as I did,” White says. “She read the first three books in about a week, but I had to wait a year in between each book’s release.

“Only my generation really understands what it’s like to grow up with Harry Potter.”