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Brooms up! Quidditch lands in Rock Hill for World Cup competition

Yes, for real.

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Ten points for Gryffindor!

If this phrase makes you yearn to hop on a flying broom and chase after a golden snitch in the name of your beloved home team, you might just be a Harry Potter enthusiast, or better yet, a US Quidditch player. Yes, you read that right.

The Harry Potter-inspired sport ­— complete with wooden brooms and a yellow-clad runner with a sock-enclosed ball hanging from his rear —­ started as Muggle Quidditch in 2005 at Vermont's Middleburry College, where the first World Cup was later held. Since incorporating in 2010 as a nonprofit, largely volunteer-based organization, quidditch has grown tremendously, now boasting about 200 teams and approximately 4,000 registered players, sweeping the country as the first mandated co-ed contact sport.

And by co-ed, quidditch is truly a progressive sport in terms of gender equality. USQ openly asserts that a player's gender is whatever gender they identify with, no questions asked. Now that's some forward thinking.

This year (happy 10th birthday, quidditch), the sport's infamous (infamous if you've read Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire) World Cup championship is landing in Rock Hill, just a bit north of last year's coastal-infused Cup in Myrtle Beach. York County's state-of-the-art sports complex Manchester Meadows will play host to both high-level athletes and Harry Potter fans April 11-12.

Pre-match at last year’s World Cup - LESLIE BARTSCH
  • Leslie Bartsch
  • Pre-match at last year’s World Cup

Representing the home front is Rock Hill's very own community quidditch team Southern Storm, which also includes players from other parts of the Carolinas. They'll be one of 80 teams from all over the country, including California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York, Tennessee (to name a few) vying for the championship.

Plot twist, though. This is the last year the event is going to be dubbed the World Cup. The title, though catchy, doesn't quite represent that the event consists mainly of North American teams. Next year, be on the look out for the National Championship.

Alex Benepe, 28, founded the sport during his college years and is now CEO of USQ. "We're working with some other international groups who play quidditch too to create a new World Cup event that will probably be every four years like the soccer World Cup."

Now, if you've ever watched a Harry Potter movie, quidditch (which mixes elements from a myriad of sports, including rugby, dodge ball, wrestling and flag football) should be pretty familiar to you. For muggles of the world (muggle (N). a wizard or witch completely clueless to the existence of magic) though, it might be strange as hell at first. The gameplay can be a little confusing. A team wins by having the most points, but it's not a timed match. The game ends when the snitch is caught, garnering the snitch catcher's team 30 points, which may or may not put that team ahead. Sadly, there is no flying.

While it's easy to assume quidditch is an extreme fan club, it's actually developed into quite a popular competitive sport. "What we say about quidditch is that people come for the Harry Potter, but they stay for the sport," Benepe says. "I think that's the reason it's been so successful, is that it starts with this super popular cultural phenomenon, but it also is a really well-designed real-life adaptation."

"The players are such ferocious athletes," he continues. "They train year-round for this. They really put themselves through a lot of hard work to get there, and when you watch the top two teams play each year, you can always see how much precision and expertise goes into what they do."

However, that precision and expertise sometimes comes with a risk, as with other sports. Because quidditch is a tackle-heavy contact sport, players are susceptible to injuries. And since the sport is relatively new on a national level, much of its development is trial and error. So, this year, USQ has introduced a new project, a "10-month process to research the current state of quidditch tackling and physical contact, and explore opportunities for improving safety, efficiency, form and training processes," according to usquidditch.org. One of the leaders of the project is a former rugby player, which is indicative that quidditch should be considered equally as intense.

Quidditch is a full contact sport. - LESLIE BARTSCH
  • Leslie Bartsch
  • Quidditch is a full contact sport.

NOWADAYS, SOME PLAYERS who join aren't even interested in Harry Potter at all; they come for the unique athletic opportunity. Benepe characterizes himself as only an "average" Harry Potter fan. "I've read all the books; I've seen the movies, but I probably wouldn't do super well at Harry Potter trivia. Let's put it that way."

Joey Galtelli, 21, a member of Winthrop University's Quidditch team and coach for Southern Storm, started out wanting to be a snitch, the runner in all yellow essentially playing an intense game of keep away. "I wrestled in high school, and I thought it would be a lot of fun just to kind of throw people around as the snitch," Galtelli says. "But then I soon realized, after playing the sport and all the positions, that it was just a sport like no other."

Galtelli created Southern Storm with two captains from Coastal Carolina University and Cullowhee, North Carolina in hopes of increasing opportunities on the field and around the country. The team's first game was in January, just a month after completing their roster, and they've been kicking ass since.

"I think the Southern Storm's team, and Winthrop's team, for that matter, we're really good at adapting to strategies, and we've always been really good at finding the strengths of all of our players," Galtelli says.

Another North Carolina community team competing in the Cup is the Appalachian Apparators from Boone. Team president Abbi Pittmann, 22, also went to college in search of a quidditch team and ended up going beyond her university's affiliation to create the Apparators. The group boasts two full teams, varsity (USQ official) and junior varsity (recreational), and they function independently through fundraising and selling their merchandise, such as the memorable scarves seen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

This year, Appalachian Apparators received their bid for cup only after an intense match against a team they were particularly tight with, even sharing similar playing styles. App won, advancing them to a spot at the competition down south.

"For me, quidditch is about competitiveness," Pittman says. "It's about athletics; it's about tolerance and acceptance; it's about improvement; but, ultimately, it's about my team — the people who have made my college experience the best I could have ever asked for — my family."

The members of University of South Carolina's team, on the other hand, are simply stoked to be going to World Cup under the "right" circumstances.

"Last year, we got in because other teams dropped out and we happened to be in the right place," Kaley Crunk, 23, president of USC Quidditch, says. "That one in particular was rough because someone used us as an example to point out flaws in the system that allowed teams like us (who completely bombed regionals last year) to go to World Cup over teams with better records." The article Crunk references was titled, "South Carolina is Going to World Cup and You Should Be Pissed."

USC's approach is laid-back, Crunk says. "We've got some real talent on our team hidden in our small ranks. We also play with a female keeper, which is not usually a strategy that teams employ due to sizing and such. We manage to make all of this work for us overall."

Crunk admits she shed some tears when her team got the snitch, securing them a bid for this year's cup.

The University of Texas at Austin is currently the reigning champion, having taken home the World Cup two years in a row.

A Texas Quidditch player at the 2014 World Cup - MICHAEL E. MASON
  • Michael E. Mason
  • A Texas Quidditch player at the 2014 World Cup

IF THE TEAMS and players aren't interesting enough, put them all together for a high-stakes weekend competition, like Cup, and you're bound to do a double-take once or twice.

The World Cup opening ceremony is a spectacle in itself. All of the competing teams march in by region, showing off different colors, logos and cheers. "We have 80 teams there, which is around 1,600 players, and they all show up in gorgeous uniforms with banners and flags," Benepe says.

Also this year, the live music couldn't be more fitting. Wizard Rock is a genre that produces music based on the HP series. The most well-known, Harry and the Potters, are bringing their full-time tour to the Cup.

Families come out in full costume, sparking the organization to actually host a costume contest this year. While the players on the pitch are in traditional athletic garb (a cape isn't the best attire for a contact sport), the fans go all out. One group, called InvisiSnitch, comes out in all yellow in support of any and all snitches.

Even with all of the HP enthusiasm, by the time an announcer calls out "brooms up!" to commence gameplay, the recreational spirit is out the window and replaced by an intense competitiveness.

On the field during a match, players and teams look — minus the brooms — as if they're playing a hard-core sport. It's really the brooms, field shape, unique hoop structures and speed that "capture the spirit of the original sport" and "gives it the dynamism and excitement of the sport as depicted in the films," Benepe says. In some ways, the actual US Quidditch World Cup truly resembles some of the fictitious World Cup portrayed on the big screen.

Take for instance this jaw-dropping trick. "One of the real crowd-pleasers and something that always amazes me on the quidditch pitch," Benepe says, "is you have players that rather than shoot or dunk the ball through the hoops, they'll jump through the hoops entirely with their whole body."

HOW TO PLAY

Each team consists of seven athletes — three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and one seeker. Of all of the peculiarities of the sport (broom riding being my favorite), one innovative concept speaks loads to modern gender equality. Quidditch's four maximum rule asserts that four members, at most, of a team must identify with the same gender. According to usquidditch.org, "the gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player's gender, which may or may not be the same as that person's sex."

As for the positions, here's the down and dirty. Chasers attempt to pass a quaffle (a semi-deflated volleyball) through one of the three hoops of varying heights on each end of the pitch. Keepers act as defense, trying to prevent opponents from getting the quaffle through their team's hoops. A quaffle through a hoop is worth 10 points. Beaters do just what their title implies — beat. Using a bludger (a dodge ball), beaters try to hit opponents and knock them out of the game temporarily. Seekers have a rather specific goal — remove the snitch ball from a hind side of a neutral snitch runner, scoring their team 30 points and ending the game. And the best bit? All of this is done with a broom between their legs at all times, no exceptions. Hence the commencement cry of every game — "brooms up!"

Each of these positions and the general gameplay is governed by a variety of rules and regulations that add even more complexities to the game, but no need to overwhelm you. As one player told me, never read the entire rulebook.

MORE INFO
U.S. Quidditch World Cup
$9.99-$99.99. April 11-12.
Manchester Meadows Park, 337 E. Mount Gallant Road, Rock Hill.

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