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Harry Potter

Quidditch, Texas-style

We are a hotbed of quality Quidditch in this state.

As cars drove by the soccer fields at Texas State University on a gray Sunday afternoon this past February, they slowed down to take in a strange scene: a dozen people running around holding broomsticks between their legs.

Anyone familiar with the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter universe would immediately recognize the activity as quidditch, the fictional sport invented by the books’ author J.K. Rowling. Of course, the version described in the books and seen in the movie adaptations is, well, magical, with the wizard characters flying on broomsticks across a field of play that takes place primarily in the sky. But a decade ago, it was adapted to real-life play by the only group of people who have the time and inclination to do such things: college students.

In 2005, some enterprising kids at Vermont’s Middlebury College created “muggle quidditch,” and since then the sport has rapidly grown. The US Quidditch Association formed in 2010 and now oversees more than 4,000 athletes playing for nearly 200 teams across seven regions in America. An International Quidditch Association formed in 2013 governs the dozens of teams that span more than twenty countries across the globe. The sport even has its own World Cup, which will be in its eighth iteration this weekend, when 80 teams from the US and Canada will battle it out for the championship in South Carolina.

Almost as astounding as the sport’s explosive growth is Central Texas’s now total domination of it. Five of the eight teams that made the quarterfinals for last year’s World Cup—UT, Baylor, Lone Star, Texas A&M, and Texas State—were from the area; three of them—UT, A&M, and Texas State—played in the semifinals. (UT beat Texas State in the final match, clinching its second World Cup championship in a row.) And going into the 2015 World Cup, four central Texas teams are listed in the top 10 overall standings, with Lone Star sitting at the top.

“The level of play in the southwest region is at such a higher level than the rest of the country,” says Beth Clem, a first-year graduate student at Texas State who plays on the university’s team. She credits this, partly, to the state’s football culture. Despite its cutesy origins, quidditch is a high-intensity contact sport, an advantage in Texas, where kids grow up on gridiron. “Half of the guys on our teams played football. They want to tackle; they want to be aggressive. We’re big, so we just wanna go through people.”

Ethan Sturm,* a player from Tufts University who is the co-founder and current managing editor of the quidditch analysis website, The Eighth Man, puts it a bit more bluntly: “You’ve got this hub in Texas where the players are simply more athletic than in other parts of the country.”

I’ve actually seen “muggle Quidditch”, a couple of years ago at Rice. There was a tournament featuring teams from a half dozen or so area colleges, including Rice, and someone in the MOB had the bright idea to put together a pep band for it. How could I resist, especially given how much my kids love Harry Potter? The matches themselves were oddly compelling to watch, though as with most sports the perspective from field level wasn’t as good as the more elevated stadium view would have been. Still, we enjoyed it, and I can see why it’s taken off. If I were 30 years younger, I might give it a try myself.

Eighteen minutes into the game, the “snitch” entered the pitch. In J.K. Rowling’s version of quidditch, the snitch is a small, gold, winged ball that is introduced to the game after an arbitrary and unspecified period of standard play. The magical item flies around the pitch, and a “seeker” from each team (this is Harry’s position in the books) is tasked with attempting to capture it, winning his or her team 150 points and ending the game. In IRL quidditch, the snitch is actually a person dressed entirely in yellow running around with a tennis ball in a tube sock tucked into the back of a his pants. When the snitch enters the field (the referee signals him to jump in), each team deploys a seeker to try and grab the ball from the snitch, who can use both of his arms to hold off them off. It’s a highly physical battle, and the interaction between the seekers and the snitch looks like a cross between a game of tag and a wrestling match. The game is over when a seeker pulls the sock with the tennis ball off the snitch’s body, with that seeker’s team getting 30 points for the effort. When Lone Star’s seeker finally tackled the snitch, the team claimed victory—and the top spot in the US Quidditch Association’s rankings going into the World Cup.

This makes me happy. While I have no doubt that actual wizard Quidditch would be awesome to watch, the scoring rules never made sense to me. Scoring 150 points for the snitch means that the goals scored by the chasers are basically meaningless. I’ve always considered Quidditch to be a sport invented by someone who doesn’t understand sports. Changing the score for getting the snitch to 30 points makes the job of the chasers a lot more relevant, and introduces an element of strategy that the original game sorely lacked. Now it may or may not be in a given team’s interest to grab the snitch, and that situation can change in an instant. I know, I know, it’s a silly, geeky thing, but if you’re going to do this you may as well do it in a sensible way.

Harry Potter and the Truly Awful Presidential Candidates

You tell ’em, Daniel Radcliffe.

[Daniel Radcliffe, star of the “Harry Potter” movies, says] that he has been “disgusted, amazed, stunned” by candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, such as Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann, who have been openly hostile to gay rights.

“But they disgusted me less than candidates like Rick Perry, who madethat ridiculous advert wearing ‘the Brokeback jacket‘, and I think pretend to be homophobic just to win votes.”

Guess this means that even a grant from the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program probably won’t be enough to get his next movie made here. Link via Trail Blazers.

Saturday video break: Seven in seven

Seven “Harry Potter” movies, summarized in seven minutes:

I haven’t seen a Potter movie since the third one – we saw it two days before Olivia was born, if that helps you understand why I’m behind in my movie-watching – but I do hope to see this one. And now I’m prepared for it.