On opposite ends of the quidditch field, the two teams crouched like sprinters on their blocks. Once everyone’s eyes were closed, the golden snitch darted toward the woods to hide from the seekers.
A quick signal from the referee, and players tore up the earth, stirring a flurry of snow as they rushed toward the four balls in the center of the field.
Then came 10 to 30 minutes of chaos, as players dodged balls and clung to their broomsticks in series of matches.
The University quidditch league‘s first game of its second season attracted roughly 80 University students and Harry Potter fans Sunday on the East River Flats Park behind Coffman Union.
“No matter who you are, there is a little bit of nerd in everyone and a part of them that just wants to get out and have fun,” Luke Zak, president of the student group, said. “But it goes beyond the nerditry into a zone of fierce competition, team rivalry and intercollegiate competition.”
Quidditch started at the University of Minnesota last fall. The founding members thought they would be joined by only their friends. At the informational meeting last September, Amanda Soczynski, one of the team’s officials, said she came prepared with only five pizzas — only to find the line was “out the door.”
“I can’t believe how far we’ve come,” she said. “It’s been a whirlwind.”
The league has made some changes from its last season, reducing the number of teams from 10 to six and increasing the players on each team from 10 to 15. This reconfiguration allows for more substitutes and lowers the chances of teams forfeiting due to a lack of players.
Captain Cody Narveson of the Chudley Cannons team said a love of author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books and their film adaptations drew his team of friends and acquaintances from Frontier Hall to join.
“The only thing missing is the flying and the magic,” he said.
A combination of dodgeball, rugby and flag football, the University quidditch league improvises to cater to muggles — the book’s name for non-magical people. There are seven players on each side, three of whom are on offense, called chasers.
Kaity McGinn said her position as chaser on the Goldy’s Army team is one of the most aggressive positions because there is only one quaffle — and six people fighting for it in order to score.
“Most people have told me they’re afraid of me,” she said.
Chasers like McGinn throw the quaffle — a slightly deflated volleyball — to each other with the objective of scoring a goal through one of the three hoops on the opposing team’s end.
Although the hoops are not hovering in mid-air but constructed of an umbrella stand, PVC pipe and a hula-hoop, they invoke a stunningly similar image.
Perhaps the most valued player on the team, the seeker, strives to catch the golden snitch. In the “Harry Potter” series, the snitch is about the size of a large walnut and is extremely difficult to spot and catch, with the game ending when it is caught. For the University league, the designated snitch team member, who is not affiliated with any of the teams, wears a gold tube sock holding a tennis ball, which the seeker aims to grab.
“I act like a madman and psych them out,” Joe Marino, one of the snitches, said of his tactics of not getting caught.
He tries to blend in, although it’s somewhat difficult in bright gold tights.
With a boundary spanning from the Mississippi River to Northrop Mall, seekers’ and snitches’ jobs can be more fatiguing than flying on a broomstick.
The game is definitely a physical sport, Soczynski said, and players sign a waiver that the league is not responsible for quidditch-caused deaths. She said the team has had a “myriad of injuries,” including her own fractured nose last season. The team wears goggles to prevent at least some accidents.
After grabbing the quaffle, Molly Woulfe, chaser for the GIL Broomsticks, was picked up by a member of the opposing team, who swung her around his shoulders and threw her on her back.
“I thought we were dancing,” Woulfe said. “I felt like I was playing football.”
Woulfe said she didn’t get hurt, although she was disoriented while trying to get back into the game.
The GIL Broomsticks is comprised entirely of marching band members, which was slightly obvious as their warm up consisted of high stepping and the traditional marching band chant.
They are planning to round up a quidditch pep band to play Hogwarts theme music.
While they may not be Nimbus Two Thousands, the broomsticks from Home Depot are one of the visible links to the novels. They can also present a challenge while running.
“When you have a broom between your legs, it tends to equalize the playing field a lot,” Soczunski said.
Three of the six teams from last semester have returned, including Goldy’s Army, which took 20th place at the World Cup last November.
The World Cup is the final match between teams from around the country, and a duel for the title of quidditch champions. Last year, there were 46 teams that participated and 20,000 spectators who attended the event in New York City.
Instead of the World Cup, this semester the top two teams from the University’s league will fly on to the Morris Prairie Cup on May 1.
This semester, the league is bringing the game into the classroom. Starting April 1, players will embark on a three-week philanthropy program by visiting the Pillsbury House, a community center that hosts an after-school program focused on art and theater, to read to kids and teach them how to play quidditch.
“It’s a good way to for the team to reach out to the community, read to kids and show them what kind of things they can do in college,” Soczunski said.
Members of the league come from a wide variety of backgrounds, Zak said, and there are “honors students, varsity athletes, bookworms, researchers and theater majors all coming together to enjoy the magic of quidditch.”