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A little bit of magic

'Muggle' Quidditch recreates Harry Potter sport

Keeper Sophie Selk (66) helps nine-year-old Jocelyn Arias of Iowa City pick her team during the University of Iowa Quidditch Club’s Kidditch Day at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex in Iowa City on Sunday, October 28, 2018. Kidditch Day offered kids a chance to learn Quidditch and practice with the team. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Keeper Sophie Selk (66) helps nine-year-old Jocelyn Arias of Iowa City pick her team during the University of Iowa Quidditch Club’s Kidditch Day at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex in Iowa City on Sunday, October 28, 2018. Kidditch Day offered kids a chance to learn Quidditch and practice with the team. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — No, they don’t fly.

That’s something members of the Iowa Quidditch Club say they have had to clarify surprisingly often.

“The two questions we get the most are ‘How does the Snitch work?’ and ‘Do you fly?’,” said club president Lily Neumann.

What they do is play a sport recreated from the world of Harry Potter. Modified, of course, to allow for the fact that, in the Muggle world, brooms don’t fly. And to answer the first question, their Snitch is not an enchanted golden ball but a person with a flag that must be captured, flag football-style.

Muggles are the term for non-magical folks in J.K. Rowling’s popular series about teen wizards, and Iowa Quidditch Club vice president and co-founder Lauren Bisgard is careful to refer to what she plays as “Muggle Quidditch.”

Inspired by the fictional game played in the books, Quidditch has been around in the real world since 2005, when a group of students at Middlebury College in Vermont formed an intramural league. It spread to other college campuses from there, and in 2010, US Quidditch, a nonprofit governing body for the sport, was formed. Today, there are formal rules, certified referees and teams around the world who come together for an annual international Quidditch World Cup.

Today and tomorrow, the US Quidditch Midwest Regional Championship will bring 17 teams to the Tuma Soccer Complex in Marion. The only Iowa team attending will be the University of Iowa based Iowa Quidditch Club.

US Quidditch lists two teams registered in Iowa; the UI club and one at Iowa State University. The UI Club formed last year after co-founders Neumann and Lauren Bisgard went to watch a previous Midwest Regional Championship when it was held in Ames. They were thrilled with what they saw.

“We decided then and there we were going to start a team,” Bisgard said.

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The idea had first entered Neumann’s head when she saw “Iowa Quidditch” T-shirts for sale at Iowa Book. Now a senior studying English and secondary education, she was looking for ways to get involved on campus.

“I saw that and thought it sounded fun, but I found out there wasn’t a team,” she said.

Bisgard, a UI senior studying elementary education, had been thinking about Quidditch much longer. While still in high school at Linn-Mar, Bisgard wrote about Quiddtich for a Harry Potter fan website, MuggleNet.com. As a kid, she fell in love with the books and then later developed a passion for the game they inspired.

The Harry Potter series marked its 20th anniversary since being published in the United States this year. With seven books, eight movies, spinoff movies, books, a play and theme parks, the stories of teen wizards out to defeat evil are a cultural phenomenon, one most of the UI’s team members have been surrounded with their entire lives — many team members are younger than the books.

Neumann said she likes that Quidditch feels welcoming. The sport has a gender inclusion rule — no more than four members of the same gender identity are allowed on the field at once. It’s providence from a fantasy book series also attracts a more eclectic set of participants than many sports, Bisgard said.

“I like to call it the nerds and jocks getting together,” she laughed.

Neumann agreed.

“I’ve never really been an athletic person, but this makes me want to be an athletic person,” she said.

Not all the team members joined because they were Harry Potter fans.

Roman Ebert, a sophomore studying German and history, had never read the books before he started playing Quidditch. He signed up with some friends. Soon, he was hooked.

“I like the community,” he said. “I like the gender inclusivity. That’s the big thing.”

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He’s now the team’s keeper captain — keepers act as the goalies, protecting the round hoops balls must be tossed through to score.

“It’s moving away from being about Harry Potter to being a sport in itself,” Neumann said. “It’s a lot more competitive and less silly than it used to be.”

Players used to wear capes, for example, and carry real broomsticks. These days, the capes are gone, and the brooms have been replaced with wooden dowels. Players are required to run with the dowels between their legs, however, as if they were riding brooms.

It may look ungainly, but Neumann said she thinks it adds to the sport. It slows bigger players down and makes the game more difficult, as players can only use one hand most of them time.

The sport is full contact, complete with tackling, and members have gotten concussions and broken bones. As in the books, each team fields seven players, including the keeper, three chasers who score goals, two beaters who try to disrupt the opposing team and a seeker whose job it is to catch the Snitch, which is embodied by a neutral player. The end result is something of a mix between rugby, basketball and dodgeball, with a little capture the flag thrown in.

“My family members are like, ‘That’s not a real sport,’” Bisgard said. “But it is.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: U.S. Quidditch Midwest Regional Championship

• Tuma Soccer Complex, 3239 C Ave. Extension, Marion

• When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Sunday

• Cost: Free

• Details: usquidditch.org/events/view/midwest-regional-championship-2018

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