UC Berkeley illustration by Hulda Nelson
I’m at quidditch practice on UC Berkeley’s lawn outside of the Valley Life Sciences Building. For those of you who don’t know, quidditch is a sport played in the magical world of Harry Potter, where players fly around on broomsticks.
Although we Muggles — or humans, for you non-Harry Potter fans — don’t have magic on our side, our quidditch players follow the same rules as in the books, or as closely as earthbound participants can. There’s even a 200-page rulebook, and referees to enforce it.
Before you think quidditch isn’t a serious sport, you should know that the team is competing this weekend in a national tournament — U.S. Quidditch Cup 10 — in Kissimmee, Florida. Owen Egger is co-captain of Berkeley’s quidditch team.
“Quidditch has been played at UC Berkeley for about seven or eight years. Only in the last couple of years has it become very serious and very competitive on the national level.”
Last year, the team also went to nationals and made it to the second and final day. “It wasn’t expected from a young, scrappy team out of UC Berkeley.”
Scrappy or not, the 60-some players on the Cal team have a lot of fun. It’s open to players without respect to gender, and right now is nearly half women.
As a referee, Egger knows the rules inside and out, so I ask him to explain them to me. “We have three chasers on each team who are in charge of driving the deflated volleyball — the quaffle — through the other team’s hoops…”
Okay, since not everyone — including me until this interview — knows the lingo, I’ll try to explain. It works like this:
There are 12 players on the field — six on each team. Players hold broomsticks between their legs at all times, as near as they get to flying. Three on each side are called “chasers”— they’re in charge of throwing a ball (this is the “quaffle” Owen was talking about… they use deflated volleyballs) through big hoops standing about three to six feet high. Each time a ball goes through a hoop, it’s worth 10 points. There are two players called “beaters” holding deflated dodge balls…
Actually, the rules are a little complicated. If you don’t already know them, you can look them up on the U.S. Quidditch website. Or try Wikipedia — it’s very thorough.
The equipment quidditch players use is official, too. A number of companies make specialized quidditch gear — Peterson’s Brooms is the most well-known. They sell everything from PVC pipe, which players use as “broomsticks” when they play in tournaments, to hoops to mouth guards.
As the game progresses, one player catches my eye. He’s a big guy wearing small golden shorts. Owen tells me he’s the keeper of the “snitch.”
“…which is a tennis ball in a sock, Velcroed to the back of very tight golden shorts worn by a very large football player,” Egger explains.
In Harry Potter, the snitch is a little golden ball that flies around taunting players. Mere mortals had to improvise. Once the seekers grab the snitch — worth 30 points — the game comes to a halt, points are tallied and the winner is decided.
Admittedly, the game might sound a bit… nerdy. But the real magic isn’t necessarily the game itself, but how close the players become. Megan Morey joined the team this fall as a freshman. She had heard that Berkeley had a quidditch team and set out to join right when she got to campus.
“One day, I walked by and I saw Cal Quidditch and was like, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ I started coming and immediately made my best friends here. I was never crazy athletic. I just come and play. I don’t worry about it.”
“There’s really a spot in the quidditch community for everyone,” says Egger. “Even if you are unathletic and don’t want to play, there are dedicated quidditch photographers. There are people who are vendors who come to tournaments. There are people who make trading cards.”
Cal Quidditch practices throughout the school year. Anyone who wants to participate can join at any time. The quidditch community always has an extra broomstick to spare.