Quidditch tournament gives Harry Potter fans chance to revel in fantasy

Kelsey Franklin, right, of Ohio State hand checks Matt Paesch of the University of Maryland as he tries to score in International Quidditch Association's Mid-Atlantic Region Fantasy Tournament, Saturday, July 19, 2014 at Ivey Redmond Sports Complex in Kernersville. About 150 players participated in the round robin, day-long tournament. Teams are picked through a fantasy draft of players throughout the region. Many teammates had never met before the games began. (Walt Unks/Journal)

Kelsey Franklin, right, of Ohio State hand checks Matt Paesch of the University of Maryland as he tries to score in International Quidditch Association's Mid-Atlantic Region Fantasy Tournament, Saturday, July 19, 2014 at Ivey Redmond Sports Complex in Kernersville. About 150 players participated in the round robin, day-long tournament. Teams are picked through a fantasy draft of players throughout the region. Many teammates had never met before the games began. (Walt Unks/Journal)

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — The only thing missing from Ivey Redmon Park was the wands. Maybe the British accents, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Otherwise, the scene Saturday was straight out of Hogwarts.

“Ten points for Gryffindor” rang out across the field, as athletes ran as fast as they could while clinging to the broomsticks wedged between their legs. Others danced around the goals — three Hula-Hoops vertically positioned on posts — deftly avoiding the dodge balls catapulting at them.

To the casual observer, the tackling, sprinting and throwing may appear a bit chaotic, but to those familiar with young wizard Harry Potter made famous by author J.K. Rowling, the mashup of several sports has come to be known as Muggle Quidditch.

Quidditch is the sport played in the Harry Potter book series, in which witches and wizards zoom through the air on flying broomsticks attempting to score points by throwing balls through hoops.

“Obviously we’re not flying and we’re using dodge balls instead of cast-iron balls, but the principle of the game is the same,” said Nathan Love, tournament director of the International Quidditch Association’s Mid-Atlantic Region Fantasy Tournament. “It’s still quite comparable to the original game.”

Quidditch has evolved from the magical fantasy game spawned from Rowling’s imagination to the one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S.

The co-ed contact sport substitutes the magical elements to create a sport that is a fusion of dodge ball, rugby and tag, attracting hardened athletes and avid Harry Potter fans alike.

Arielle Flax is a die-hard Harry Potter fan, who said she has read the Harry Potter series 27 times. But Flax wasn’t content to just read the books. She wanted to be a part of them.

So when she stumbled upon George Mason University’s Quidditch team as a freshman, she joined immediately.

“I used to pretend I was at Hogwarts when I was little,” Flax, of Norfolk, Va., said, referring to the fictional British school of magic for students ages 11 to 18. “So when I saw the kids out there with brooms, I knew I was destined to play.”

Flax was one of almost 150 players from 15 states participating in Saturday’s tournament. The players were drafted by team captains, and many teammates were meeting for the first time.

Michael Malakoff of Tampa, Fla., drove 12 hours to make the event.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the dorkiest thing ever,’ so of course I had to do it,” Malakoff said. “I’ve always been a huge Harry Potter fan.”

When the final Harry Potter book came out, Malakoff read the 700-page novel seven times in two weeks.

Quidditch has become the 22-year-old’s new passion.

“I showed up to the first practice with my big giant Ravenclaw scarf and was just excited to meet fellow fans,” Malakoff said. “I joined because I love Harry Potter, but I kept playing because I love the sport.”

Quidditch was adapted by students at Vermont’s Middlebury College in 2005. The sport is now played at more than 300 universities and high schools worldwide, according to the International Quidditch Association.

Malakoff plays all of the positions — chaser, beater, seeker and goalkeeper.

The chasers try to score by shooting the Quaffle — a volleyball — through one of the three Hula-Hoop goals guarded by the goalkeeper. Each goal earns the team 10 points.

The beaters and try to prevent chasers from scoring by chucking balls at them.

But seeker is Malakoff’s favorite. In the Harry Potter series, the seeker has to capture the golden snitch — a tiny winged orb that flits through the air of its own accord. In the nonmagical Muggle world void of magical flying objects, a neutral player acts as the snitch.

Daniel Brys was one of the snitches, dressed head to toe in gold clothing. As a snitch, he was the only player of the 15 on the field that didn’t have to ride a broom.

“Basically my job is to keep the seekers off me, throw them around, whatever it takes to protect the snitch,” Brys said, motioning to his tail, a sock with a tennis ball in it fastened to the back of his shorts.

Different snitches have different tactics to keep from having their tails stolen, he said, including silly-stringing players, stealing broomsticks and other kinds of mischief worthy of the Weasley twins — jokester friends of Harry Potter — themselves.

The seeker that captures the snitch earns 30 points and ends the game.

After 12 hours of Quidditch matches, the Jiggly-Puffs defeated the Whitewalkers, earning about $500 for the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Each team in the tournament represented a different charity, and although the tournament was winner-take-all, Love worked his magic to make sure that no team went home empty-handed.

Love, the owner of Roar and Rumble Wandmakers, makes hand-carved wands for a living. He made a small donation to each team.

“It’s all part of making the world a better, and more magical, place,” Love, a graduate student at Appalachian State University, said. “Quidditch is more than just a game in a book. It’s a sport that is captivating people all across the world.”

Love began playing six years ago and held the first North Carolina Quidditch tournament in Boone last year. He said he hopes to make the tournament an annual event in the state and is working to organize a tournament in Winston-Salem for January 2015.

For Brys — a student at Tennessee Tech who has played basketball, football and soccer — Quidditch is a revival of his childhood dreams.

“We all grew up waiting for our letters to Hogwarts and wishing we could play Quidditch,” Brys said. “Even though the series is over, this is our way of keeping it alive.”

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