The food stands are labeled “The Three Broomsticks,” the sign outside the referees’ tent reads “Chamber of Secrets,” and if you are tired of using the Port-A-Potties, you can always visit “Moaning Myrtle’s Bathroom.”
I am in Newport, Rhode Island, at the Northeast Regional Quidditch Championship Tournament. The name itself seems contradictory: An unremarkable title, typical of any standardized college sports tournament, save for the inclusion of one magic word.
This rift between whimsy and desire for the sport’s legitimacy runs like a common thread through every element of the tournament. Some teams come in costume, wearing capes and t-shirts with names like “Potter” and “Tonks” on the backs. “They’re here for a Harry Potter-themed weekend,” someone tells me. “They’ll be easier to beat.” Others arrive in full athletic uniform, official-looking jerseys and new cleats gleaming. “These teams are the serious ones. They’re here to win.”
And both camps are understandable. Muggle Quidditch is a sport in its infancy. But as an athletically demanding game with its roots in children’s literature, it is a sport drawn increasingly in two directions which might, in Mean Girls terms be oversimplified as “jocks” and “geeks.”
So where do the NYU Nundu fall on this spectrum? When I tried out for the team in September, I discovered a community that shared a deep and abiding love for J.K. Rowling’s books. Does this make us geeks? Today we are among the teams dressed in pristine athletic uniforms. Does this make us jocks?
I like to think that the two can be reconciled, but for a sport attempting to defend its legitimacy, honoring children’s books often falls second to the competitive athletic mindset. And as I look at the teams the Nundu are scheduled to face today—UMass, Brandeis, Tufts, and Harvard—I realize we hardly have space for whimsy. Winning these will require our full concentration.
We beat UMass handily. Still, it is enough to start whispers between the teams. The NYU Nundu have never had a strong record in the past.
Then we beat Harvard. Then Brandeis. Then the floodgates open and members of other teams approach us with questions. How did we become a serious team so quickly? How are we training? It feels as though we have been accepted into some elite circle of athletes who regard Quidditch as a sport like any other, one in which serious competition trumps childhood fantasy.
We finish the first day 3-1, with our only loss against Tufts University. We are ecstatic; our record allows us to advance to the next round, from which we can qualify for the World Cup. This is, in fact, the first year that the Quidditch World Cup requires regional-based qualifications for entry. In previous years, it was open to teams regardless of their placement in tournaments. It is another step toward Quidditch as a legitimate, competitive sport, and away from its kitschy beginnings of Potter-loving college students playing on Swiffer brooms. I wonder, as we leave the pitch for the day, if the game is already becoming sterile, if its departure from its origins will ultimately rob it of its personality and charm.
But when we beat Syracuse University and secure our place in the World Cup bracket, none of the magic is gone. As my team crowds together, shouting our victory, the Syracuse team gathers around us and celebrates as well. They are genuinely happy for us. “This is what Quidditch is all about!” a Syracuse student shouts. And on the field littered with discarded broomsticks, quaffles, and bludgers, there is not a shred of irony in his voice.
This is something we shared, be it as devout Potter fans or devout athletes.
This is joy, and there will always be magic in that.
[Photos by Michael E. Mason]