The Kellogg Eye Center looks a lot like Hogwarts.
At least, from where I’m standing it does. I’m in the heart of Riverside Park on a very cloudy, very British day. The grass looks mossy; my boots are getting wet and muddy. The Kellogg Eye Center is peaking through the back of the field, its impressive stature reminding me of J.K. Rowling’s famed school of Witchcraft and Wizardry despite the two’s architectural differences. But all that doesn’t matter. There’s a quidditch game going on.
Founded in 2010 and originally a subset of the Michigan Muggles, the University’s quidditch team is on the rise. Later this month, they’re sending a 21-person roster to the World Cup in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where they’ll be among 80 other teams from around the country — and they’re doing all this with a less-than-magical catch.
“Having a broom between your legs is really hard,” said LSA junior Lisa Lavelanet, quidditch team beater. “It’s just very foreign for people, so it’s hard to really gauge how good they’re gonna be once they get used to it.”
Though growing in popularity, quidditch remains a bit of a mystery to the typical sports-minded public. The team broke it down for me.
“It’s a poor man’s lacrosse, basically,” said keeper Eric Wasser, a University alum. “There’s no sticks, but you’re still scoring on, you know, a pitch — four on four with the quaffle play, with the added addition of dodgeballs as bludgers. And those bludgers, if you get hit by one thrown by the other team, you have to step out of the play and touch your own hoops before you can continue playing in any way.”
LSA junior, quidditch publicity chair and chaser Meaghan O’Connell notes the roughness of the game.
“I kind of call it a mix between rugby and handball. The rugby part is because it is full contact,” O’Connell said. “We don’t do it much at practice because we’re trying not to kill each other, but if you go to a tournament, you see people just getting tackled, like full-out taken down.”
Prior sports experience is a must. Everyone on the team has some athletic background, according to Wasser. No spell can poof you away from the tackling, sprinting, throwing and catching.
“If you’ve never played contact sports and you’re not comfortable getting hit, this is not the place for you,” Lavelanet said, chuckling. “People figure that out pretty quickly once they’re actually at tryouts.”
A standard broom-riddled year looks like this: after advertising at Festifall and gaining solid exposure, tryouts happen right after Welcome Week. Midwestern regional qualifiers are in early November — and then there’s April’s coveted World Cup. Even when they’re given a break from this hectic schedule, the team still must stay in shape.
“Especially because we have an off-season, I’ve gotten more disciplined. When we’re not playing in the winter, we do workouts on our own. A lot of us have started lifting, which I didn’t have to do in high school,” O’Connell said. “It’s a lot of like doing stuff on your own, knowing that it’s going to pay off in the spring.”
Wasser recognizes the dedication the seemingly trivial sport demands, as well.
“90 percent of the team who’s going to World Cup works out three or four days a week and stuff. It’s just like any other sport in that aspect, and we get looked down upon because it’s quidditch, but at the same time, for most of us, we don’t even think about Harry Potter at all,” Wasser said.
That last statement was an Avada Kedavra to my heart. “Really?” I inquired.
“For me, there’s no more Harry Potter,” Wasser said. “I read Harry Potter as a kid, and then, like, I don’t know. I came out to play this because I didn’t wanna like commit to a super serious club sport or varsity sport in college. This is more relaxed; we have more control over it because it’s all student-run, but like when we’re actually playing, it’s serious.”
O’Connell elaborated on the death of The Boy Who Lived in her teammates’ eyes.
“I was like, ‘Oh, quidditch! It’s Harry Potter! That’s cool!’ when I was like interested from the beginning, but, like Eric said, after my first week of practice I wasn’t thinking about it,” O’Connell said.
“I feel like I’m a huge anomaly,” Lavelanet said. “I’m a super-fan. I love it so much. I like it probably more than the rest of the whole team combined.”
All three answered promptly when asked what their favorite books were, though. For Wasser, it’s “The Order of the Phoenix;” O’Connell likes “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “The Chamber of Secrets” occupies a particular place in Lavelanet’s memory.
“I’m really attached to two because two was like the first one I could really, like, read on my own at a good pace, just because I was little when they came out,” Lavelanet said. “So I have, like, a special attachment to that one.”
Though small in numbers at today’s practice due to injuries and the like, passion is not lost among the team. O’Connell is eager to tell me about one of the coolest real-life revisions quidditch has to offer. In the Wizarding World, tiny gold spheres are self-navigating and airborne, but “Muggle” quidditch is a little different.
“The third element we didn’t play with today is the snitch. So, that’s a person with shorts and like a little ball,” O’Connell said, gesturing to her backside.
After 18 minutes pass in a game, the snitch is released, and each team’s seeker (Harry Potter’s position) strives to catch it.
“And that kind of looks a lot like wrestling, like more than you’d expect,” Lavelanet said of the catching maneuver. “It’s evolved into being a wrestling match.”
O’Connell and Lavelanet hunch over and start to simulate a spirited, intense duel for me. After, Lavelanet muses on quidditch’s vitality.
“It’s like playing any sport. I feel like especially since it’s full contact, you’re much more energized — at least, for me. I used to play volleyball, and I’d always feel like there was something missing, and it was contact,” Lavelanet said. “As a beater, you’re out there with one other beater, so it’s kind of like you and your partner. So, especially if someone is like roughing up your partner, it’s definitely just like a very good — I don’t know, it gets you going. You want to win.”