On Sundays and Fridays at the East River Flats, a group of college students can be seen “flying” around on PVC pipe brooms and throwing deflated balls through towering vertical hoops.
These students are members of the University of Minnesota’s Quidditch club, and are playing a game inspired by the wizard sport of the same name in J.K. Rowling's “Harry Potter” series.They started practice for their seventh season last week.
The club is made up of two teams. For Quidditch pros, there is a 19-person traveling team that competes in tournaments during the season, and students of all skill levels are welcome in the intramural league.
"Quidditch is a strategically-complex sport," said Joseph Reis, president of Minnesota Quidditch. “Since [the different positions] all do radically different things, you pretty much need to reference a different sport for each of the players."
The goal of the game is to throw deflated dodge balls through one of three hoops to score 10 points. Seven people from each team can be on the field at a time, and only four of those seven players can be the same gender. After 18 minutes of play, a teammate called the snitch runner is released onto the field. Catching the snitch, which is a ball stuck to the player’s shorts, ends the game and earns a team 30 points.
Despite the sport’s “Harry Potter” origins, not all players are obsessed with the book or movie series.
Reis said he only read the books this summer, even though this is his fourth year playing the sport.
“You get those two sides — people who are very interested in [Quidditch] because of Harry Potter, and other people who are interested in it because it is a pretty fun sport with a good amount of physicality and skill,” said Matthew Pray, athlete and intramural coordinator.
Most players have never participated in a co-ed team sport before playing Quidditch.
Nadja Melby, arts and merchandise coordinator for the team, is a beater on the field, which is both a defensive and offensive position.
Melby said she appreciates how her position prioritizes strategic thinking over physicality.
“The genders are equal,” she said. “You can have girl beaters that are just as good, if not better, than guys.”
Sarah Woolsey, executive director of U.S. Quidditch, said the sport’s inclusivity goes beyond gender.
“We have a really close community for people of all skill levels, of all body types, all experience,” Woolsey said.
Though the Quidditch community is tight-knit, some players remember being laughed at for playing Quidditch.
“It's definitely made me look at how I look at other people’s pastimes,” said Melby. “It’s not fun to have the thing that you enjoy laughed at.”
Reis said Quidditch is being taken more seriously and many hope to see the sport grow nationally and internationally.
“With the Harry Potter generation kind of growing up, it’s always kind of worrisome that [Quidditch is] going to die out,” said Reis.
Chase Pankow, a member of the competition team, said he thinks the sport’s origin will help Quidditch grow past the millennial generation.
“You see returning players that, because they came in liking Harry Potter, they fall in love with the game,” Pankow said.
The Minnesota Quidditch competition team will take part in the Midwest Regional Championship this November in Madison, Wisconsin.