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By Matthew Marinello
When organizing a meeting with Britni Puccio, the Captain and President of the Virginia Commonwealth University Quidditch team, I expected a fairly low-key one-on-one run-in at the local coffee spot comprised of straightforward Q&A’s.
You can suspect my surprise when I was greeted with six enthusiastic and involved team members/officers. The official ambassador for the VCU team, Emily Wells, expeditiously explained, “most teams have adopted wizarding world words as names – we are the Wizengamots; University of Richmond (UR) is the Acromantulas.” The interview had elapsed not but a few minutes, and some heavy Potter knowledge had already been dropped–I knew I was in for a treat. Any outline previously planned flew straight out the window, as everyone had everything to say about every single topic – mentioning the 7th book epilogue whipped up a 20 minute whirlwind of opinion. The team practically interviewed themselves, as the group energy carried the roller-coaster of a conversation. Needless to say, the colorful crew radiated an electric kool-aid love of Harry Potter which left me totally beside myself.
For those unaware, the game of Quidditch has been transcribed from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and translated to the real/physical “Muggle” world. Many forms of muggle Quidditch have been conceived since the release of the first book; however, (DNA replication terms aside) the crossover failed to gain popularity until Alexander Manshel instigated his own adaptation of the sport in 2005, at Middlebury College in Vermont. An intramural Quidditch league, the foundation for what would later become a renowned intercollegiate association, was subsequently formed, and Manshel named the first official Quidditch Commissioner.
The basic game rules and field layout remain true to the novels (and if you’re unfamiliar with these, then you are probably reading the wrong magazine). The field is an oval divided by a midline and sectioned off at the ends into keeper boxes; each box contains three elevated circular goal hoops. There are seven players on each team: three chasers, two beaters, one keeper, and one seeker. The game balls used are: one quaffle (volleyball) and three bludgers (dodgeballs); there is no ball to represent the snitch (which will be touched on later). More rules can be found at collegequidditch.com. Of course, appropriate alterations are applied to accommodate the obvious lack of magical ability – the main one being: muggles cannot fly(!).
“You would not believe how many people ask us: how do you fly?” Puccio exasperated, “the rules require we run around with a broom between our legs–one hand on the handle at all times. If you are hit with a bludger, you have to stop what you are doing, drop any game ball you are holding, and run back and circle your home goal hoops – this simulates falling off the broom.”
The other major change, and probably the defining feature which sets Manshel’s game apart from other versions, is the aspect of the golden snitch. The snitch is personified as–well, just that–a person. They are dressed out in yellow or gold, and usually someone with high endurance and agility (acrobatics is a plus). They roam the campus and playing field, hiding and running from the seekers. The snitch has the most freedom, but also arguably the most responsibility–just like the novels, the game does not end until after the snitch has been caught. Some snitches can prance around indefinitely without being caught, so it is advised for them to wear a wrist watch in order to keep the game from going on for too long.
“We are blessed with very few limitations,” says Wells, also the team’s designated snitch, “we pretty much go wherever we want and do whatever we want within reason. Our main objective is to humiliate the seekers…it’s a very one-sided fight.”
The seekers must attempt to snatch a sock (or ball-in-sock in most cases) attached to the backside of the snitch (like flag-football). All the while, the snitch is permitted to harass the seekers in any way they see fit. “There is a fair amount of showboating involved in our duties,” Wells proudly states, “we may grab and shove, pull capes over heads, even slap faces–Creativity is highly encouraged. Physical contact is a key element!”
“Muggle Quidditch is without a doubt a REAL contact sport,” Puccio swears as she shows-off her sand dollar sized bruises, “this is why we require proper eye protection and mouth guards in addition to the standard uniform and cape.” “We were chastised once for wearing mouth guards by UR in a game against them,” laughed Amber Cummings, the team secretary, “but then a girl from their team took a hard body check and began bleeding from the mouth…it was gnarly…she complained that “this” always happens to her…and that’s why we wear mouth guards.”
For those still skeptical as to exactly how physical an activity muggle Quidditch can be, please refer to the following link:
It is a promotional commercial for the release of the sixth Harry Potter film, presented by MTV…and if that didn’t get you amped…well then watch it again, but listen for the music á la Modern Warfare.
Of note is the top hat totting announcer in the video, whom is none other than Middlebury’s own Alex Benepe.
In 2006 Benepe succeeded Manshel as Quidditch Commissioner and founded the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA). The first official intercollegiate match took place on November 11th, 2007, between Middlebury College and Vassar College; since then, over 200 institutions from across the globe have joined the league.
Included in the 200+ establishments, is Richmond VA’s very own Virginia Commonwealth University (I’ll keep a casual bias towards the home team). Fortunate enough to attend the 2009 Quidditch World Cup held in Vermont, the Wizengamots have experienced exponential growth since their humble beginnings in the spring of 2008.
“Only three people showed up to the first interest meeting [held by team founder Heather Wright],” stated Puccio. “It was quite a surprise when over twenty students showed up to the 2009 fall SOVO (Student Organizations and Volunteer Opportunities) Fair. I remember standing in the Student Commons, broom in hand, when two girls approached me asking if I was with the Quidditch team. Before I knew it, I was swathed in bodies and asked to relocate outside because we were a fire hazard.”
‘Fire hazard’ may be a bit extreme, but make no mistake; the Wizengamots are a dazzling bunch of individuals with a warm disposition, sunny sense of humor, and burning passion for all things Potter
Currently 28 members strong, they expect to continue to grow. “We have a very open policy,” stated the graduating historian, Brooke Bernard, “someone once told us, they couldn’t join the team because they were Christian...can you believe that? Muggle Quidditch does not discriminate by religion, anyone who wants to, can join the team.”
“We have a lot of fun and are a super close-knit group…give us a try,” said Puccio, “join our cornucopia of love!” A firm familial bond was unquestionably present between the team. And believe you me; there was no shortage of love. The interview in its entirety was peppered with an abundance of handholding, and playfully platonic assertions of unyielding affection. A brief but enormously entertaining sing-song session even broke out about the members’ collective appreciation for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
Quidditch at VCU proves to be more than just a sport; it’s a unique social scene. The team hosts two official school sponsored events–both are formal balls, one in the winter and one in the spring. The spring one was recently held this past May 1st at the Student Commons. According to team Charity Coordinator, Barbie Broome, and incoming historian, Rachel McConnell, it was filled with “boogie-ing and lots of ridiculousness.” It should be noted that most, if not all, the Quidditch hosted events are sober. So stash the beer and blunts at home if you plan to scope one of their soirees.
In addition, much of the team also participates in other fantastical hobbies such as Dungeons & Dragons, and cosplay–a large portion of the team dressed up in robes and hats for the past release of the 6th Harry Potter Movie. Some members even joined in the recent VCU Humans vs. Zombies game (discussed in an eariler Quail Bell article). As Wells tactfully put it, “If you’re nerdy enough to play Quidditch, it probably doesn’t stop there.”
Contrary to what some may think, the Wizengamots are not oblivious to the stigma accompanied by their chosen pastime. “Sure, we sometimes get funny looks walking around with our brooms,” said Wells, “but there’s a threshold of embarrassment, where once you pass a certain point, you stop caring [what others think]…and if you play Quidditch, you kind of have to not care [what others think],”–words of wisdom. While not exactly LARPing, Quidditch requires the same mind set you need if you are to brave any public display of role-play.
Hopefully this article has shed enough light on muggle Quiddith for it to warrant further investigation from skeptics. “Everyone is more than welcome to come out a see us practice or play!” declared Puccio. For local readers interested, the team practices in Patronous Park (ironically named), located at Idlewood and Randolph. More information regarding the team can be found on their Facebook page, “Fans of Quidditch at VCU!” or by following their Twitter account, “VCU Quidditch.”