By Mike Foster
It’s a case of life imitating art. The game of quidditch, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, with its trainee wizards chasing the golden snitch on flying brooms, is very real. And uOttawa’s team is the best in Canada.
Earlier this month, students from the University of Ottawa won the Quidditch Canada National Championship in Kingston, Ontario, after a season in which the team won 23 games and lost one. Several members of the quidditch team are vying to play for Canada at the Quidditch World Cup, which will take place in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 23 and 24, 2016.
Team captain and coach Michael Howard, a fourth-year biomedical sciences student in the French extended stream, says the secret to the quidditch team’s success this year has been great chemistry, dedication and experience.
“This year, we came together and worked hard. We had a lot of veterans on the team and we all played to win,” Howard said.
The full-contact sport played by co-ed teams is like a combination of rugby, dodgeball and flag football.
The rules – and the latest, ninth edition of the official International Quidditch Association Rulebook extends to more than 200 pages – have been adapted from the fictional game. Gravity and lack of magic keeps players earthbound, of course, but players still must hold a broom handle between their legs during play.
“The broom is much like a handicap that you have in other sports,” Howard said. “In soccer, you aren’t allowed to use your hands; in basketball you aren’t allowed to travel, you have to dribble.”
Each team of seven players is divided into chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers. Chasers run around trying to throw volleyballs (known as quaffles) through three hoops. Beaters throw dodgeballs (called bludgers) at chasers to knock them out of play. Keepers try to prevent balls from going through the hoops, and seekers try to capture the “snitch”, a tennis ball in a sock attached like a tail to the waistband of a neutral player (called the snitch runner).
Putting a quaffle through a hoop scores 10 points. Capturing the snitch scores 30 points and ends the game. If a chaser is hit by a beater, the player must drop the quaffle and touch all three of their side’s hoops before re-entering play.
Quidditch began 10 years ago at Middlebury College in Vermont and has rapidly expanded, with more than 300 teams riding their broomsticks in more than 20 countries.
“You can compare its growth to ultimate Frisbee, which was popular on campuses before it blew up internationally,” Howard said. “For me, it started out as a goofy, fun thing to try when I was in first year. Then I really got into the athletic aspect of it and the competition, which is phenomenal. The team has developed into a second family for me.”
Erin McCrady (BSocSc ʼ15), who has been with the team since it was formed in 2011, is one of several players who tried out for Team Canada in mid-March.
“We’re all anxiously awaiting the results,” McCrady said. “There tends to be a lot of eye-rolling when you call quidditch a sport, until someone has actually watched a match. It’s intense and competitive and a thrill to watch.
“I started playing because I love Harry Potter. But now, in my mind, quidditch and the Harry Potter universe have become very separate things. I honestly forget that it comes from fiction because when I play, it’s just like any other sport.”
Muggles, get your brooms! Alumni and their families can learn how to play quidditch, with tips from members of uOttawa’s championship-winning team, at an introductory workshop on May 7, 2016, as part of this year’s Alumni Week.