While their brooms may not fly and their snitch may be a track runner in place of a golden winged ball, the lack of witchcraft doesn’t stop the magic of Quidditch for the University of Massachusetts Quidditch team, the Minotaurs.
With 71 registered players, about 50 of whom are consistently involved, the UMass Quidditch team has grown into a successful organization. Quidditch has gained popularity as a coed sport with a fun and friendly social atmosphere open to all interested, and students have been “flying” toward the UMass Quidditch team, even in light of their displacement due to construction.
Aside from being a great form of exercise, the game is also a great outlet for social interaction, said Kara Ribeiro, junior industrial engineering major and UMass Quidditch treasurer.
“You have a built-in conversation topic,” Ribeiro said. “Anyone who is playing knows at least a little bit about Harry Potter.”
Originally a sport played on flying broomsticks created in the world of “Harry Potter” by J.K Rowling, Quidditch has come off the pages and onto the greens of colleges across the globe. Originally adapted for play by “muggles,” or non-magical beings, at Middlebury College in 2005, Quidditch has gained prominence as one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. according to the International Quidditch Association (IQA) website.
Quidditch is not just a UMass phenomenon. Plenty of universities across the country have teams, with Massachusetts alone having 33 registered teams. According to the IQA website, the United States has almost 600 registered teams altogether.
Even without the flying broomsticks and magic flying snitch, the game is still very complex. Each team has seven players. Three are “chasers,” who are similar to forwards in soccer. Chasers score points by throwing a volley ball – called a “quaffle” – into one of three hoops guarded by a “keeper,” which is similar to a goalie. Each score is worth 10 points.
Each team also has two “beaters” who use dodge balls – called “bludgers” – to throw at the opposite team to knock them out of the game for a period of time.
Both teams also have a “seeker,” which is the most important position and was Harry’s role in the “Harry Potter” series. The seeker’s job is to locate and “snatch the snitch,” which is a flying golden ball represented by a tennis ball in a sock. The sock is dangling from the waist of an often golden-clad track runner whose goal is to evade capture as long as possible. Once the snitch has been snatched, the game is over. Snatching the snitch is worth 30 points. Amid all of this chaos, a player must also remember to keep a broom between his or her legs throughout the entire game.
“Aside from the fact that we don’t fly around, and our bludgers don’t break bones, it’s essentially the same thing,” said Brent Tenerowicz, sophomore psychology major and vice president of the Quidditch team. Tenerowicz plays the role of chaser on the team.
Not all is magic in the UMass Quidditch team, however. Having recently lost their playing field due to campus construction, they have been temporarily moved from their home turf.
The Minotaurs used to meet once a week to scrimmage. Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. spectators could watch a game of Quidditch be played on the green near the campus center.
Due to construction in the area, however, Quidditch games and practices have been moved from the field near the campus center to the fields out behind the recreation center.
“It’s a little sad. It’s the place I would most call home over the past four years,” said Chris Chan, senior classics and anthropology major and seeker on the team.
Chan explained how the team has to “squat” on the playing fields for now until a more permanent home is found for the team.
“We sort of knew it was happening, but they never gave us a firm date as to when it was,” senior math major Nate Harman said. “It’s much less convenient.”
Regardless of setbacks, Ribeiro explained that Quidditch is a great way for people intimidated by mainstream sports to get into a game.
“No one has been playing Quidditch their whole lives. You walk in and no one really has that much of an advantage. You show up, you practice and you’ll be just as good as anyone else,” Ribeiro said. “It’s athletic without being jock-centered. It’s not intimidating.”
The team is also geared toward attracting a balanced mix of genders. Not only is the UMass team coed, but the official IQA rules state that each team must have at least two girls on the field at any given time.
Falling in between the realms of intramural and varsity sports, Quidditch has its own unique place in college athletics.
“It’s a perfect niche in college sports,” said Chan. “You get the people who play intramural and the people who play varsity, and then you get the people in between. Quidditch kind of fills the space in between because we have both competitive and casual segments.”
The team acquired the name Minotaurs as a play on the UMass Minutemen, Ribiero explained in an interview.
The Minotaurs commonly compete against include the Harvard Horntails, the Tufts Tufflepuffs and the Smith College Quidditch Team.
Competition goes much farther than the greens of college campuses. Once a year teams from across the country go to New York City to compete in the Quidditch World Cup.
Out of 103 teams ranked on the official IQA website, the Minotaurs rank 43rd, with a win average of 46.2 percent and an average of 48.5 points scored per game out of 13 games played since World Cup V.
When asked if the Minotaurs had a chance at winning the World Cup, Tenerowicz said “We’ve definitely improved. If we stay at the rate we’ve been improving and get some good new members in the fall, I’d say we could definitely get close.”
Joining the team is easy – there are no try outs, no previous skill necessary, and all are welcome to play. To join the competitive team, all a member has to do is commit to two practices a week and help with tabling in the campus center and Mullins Center cleanups to help fund the team, as well as have a love for the game, of course.
The team isn’t all play, however. In order to finance their trips and other budgetary concerns, the Minotaurs sell t-shirts and have hosted dinner nights at local restaurants, where 10 percent of revenue goes back to the team.
“So long as you fulfill your commitment, you’re on the team,” Tenerowicz said.
Background knowledge of Harry Potter isn’t even required.
“Last year we had someone who hadn’t read past the fifth one,” Tenerowicz said. “Needless to say we ‘helped’ them finish the series, but if you are not a Harry Potter fan or are just getting into the series, it doesn’t matter. You just have to want to play.”
Members of the team rave about UMass Quidditch’s close social circle.
“People are generally silly,” said Harman, of those who play. “It sort of inherently doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
The teammates commonly have dinners together, as well as other social gatherings such as bowling and video game nights.
Ribiero commented on the sense of community:
“Most people would say the Quidditch team is a family they’re part of,” she said. “We’re a family; we bug each other about everything.”
“Some of my best friends from college are here,” said Chan.
Players explain the team as being a social home they hadn’t had before college.
“In high school there’s always that trouble for people who might not want to be sportsy people and might not want to be artsy people; it’s kind of a wishy-washy area, and Quidditch fills that area,” said Chan.
“We’re huge nerds, and we just have so much fun together,” said Tenerowicz.
When asked if people should join the team, Harman responded, “As long as you are reasonably nerdy enough that you want to play a game based on Harry Potter. If that doesn’t bother you, then of course join the team!”
Justin Surgent can be reached at [email protected]