By Jenny Rollins
BU News Service
Rather than robes and goggles, the Boston University Quidditch team gets decked out in full-athletic gear, from spandex to cleats to mouthguards. Instead of flying through the air on brooms, they sprint across the field with custom-made, regulation length PVC pipe between their legs.
The sight is strange, inspiring many passers by to stop, stare and snap photos or video of the team practices in Magazine Beach Park.
However, the new generation of younger players hope that onlookers recognize the level of athleticism it takes to play the intense co-ed contact sport.
They are hungry to prove themselves and be recognized as real athletes by the community at large and leave out Harry Potter altogether.
“While the theme is from Harry Potter, this has basically zero to do with Harry Potter,” said Jordan Black (CAS’19), a BU team captain. “I would dare to say at least a third of our team hasn’t seen the movies or read the books. We just all enjoy it because it’s a really athletic, physical game.”
For the people who don’t take Quidditch seriously because of the “brooms” and the Harry Potter connection, Black recommends that they come to the pitch and watch for themselves. He frequently shows people videos of intense matches, and, in his experience, they start to take it more seriously.
And if they still don’t get it, he challenges them to try it for themselves.
“Once people try it, almost everybody’s reaction is ‘Holy s***! This is hard!” Black said.
The International Quidditch Association has maintained their connection to Harry Potter by appearing at Comic Cons all over the country for years. BU team captain Henry Kruell (COM’19) believes that they promote the “geek” aspect because they grew up with the Harry Potter series, but he says the generation gap is causing a divide in the quidditch world.
“It’s an interesting growing pain process right now,” Kruell said. “They’re still very focused on including Harry Potter as a thing. I don’t know how much longer that’s going to be beneficial.”
Boston’s Quidditch roots
Quidditch is widely popular in New England and its beginnings as a real game can be traced back to Middlebury College in Connecticut, in 2005. There are competitive teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Boston is home to some of the best college, club and major league teams in the nation. Four of the 25 players on the 2018 U.S. National Team are from Quidditch Club Boston. Three of those previously played for BU — beaters Max Havlin and Lulu Xu, and seeker Harry Greenhouse, who is the current coach for BU’s team.
Greenhouse has made a name for himself in the Quidditch world as a talented seeker and coach. He caught the snitch during the 2018 International Quidditch Association World Cup in Florence, Italy, beating out Belgium, to win a gold medal and Team USA’s third championship since the first IQA World Cup in 2012.
BU Quidditch was founded in the spring of 2008 and started off strong — they qualified for nationals right away and have done so every year since. They have won the Northeast Regional Championship four times, most recently in 2013.
The game mechanics of quidditch
Real world quidditch is built around a similar premise as it is in the Harry Potter world, but the game has taken on a life and magic of its own.
The game is an odd mutt with no clear sports pedigree, but Greenhouse describes it as a mix between dodgeball, basketball and rugby.
Each team has three chasers, two beaters, a keeper and a seeker, just like the books. The chasers score points by putting the quaffles (volleyballs) past the keeper and through one of the three hoops. The beaters, rather than using bats, throw the bludgers (deflated dodgeballs) at other players to knock them out of play.
However, the keeper and the seeker positions are slightly different. The keeper has evolved into more of a point guard position, working with the offense while also being the first to defend the hoops.
The seeker does not chase after a tiny, golden, winged ball. Instead, the seekers are released 18 minutes into the game and chase after a person dressed in gold with a flag football-esque tail velcroed to the back of their shorts.
“It takes a lot of hand fighting and positioning,” Kruell said.
When the seekers rip the tail off, the game is over and the team that caught the snitch gets 30 points instead of the 150, so the game isn’t unfairly weighted.
BU Quidditch prospects for nationals
On day one of the Northeast Regional Tournament, the BU Quidditch team beat Clark University, Hofstra University and Macaulay Honors College, winning their pool and automatically qualifying for nationals for the 11th straight season — the longest streak of any quidditch team ever.
The next day didn’t quite live up to their ideal standards after they lost to the reigning national champions, the University of Rochester and were then eliminated by Rochester Institute of Technology. The University of Rochester went on to win the regional tournament.
The New York/Boston rivalry is just as real on the quidditch pitch as it is anywhere else.
“University of Rochester, the reigning national champions. Notice the key word there is ‘reigning,’” Greenhouse tells his team as they wrap up their practice.
“Well, we’re going to ‘reign’ on their parade,” quipped one team member.
Greenhouse wants to cultivate an uplifting environment for his team to experience the joy of the sport and of teamwork, but he also strongly believes in creating “a winning culture.”
“I’m trying to push them to be as successful as possible, trying to push them to compete at the highest levels of the game,” he said.
He and his team have full confidence that they can win at the nationals in April. Although they’re breaking for the transition between semesters, in the spring they will return to practicing six hours a week along with personal conditioning.
“No question. I’m very confident we can bring it home,” Black said.