UF Quidditch team readying for magical run in World Cup


Jimmy Singer scores the quaffle past Zach Thorne during practice on Saturday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 5:50 p.m.

When you take a broom to the face in Quidditch, you can lose some teeth.

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Jimmy Singer scores the quaffle past Zach Thorne during practice on Saturday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun

Playing Quidditch in a world where brooms can't fly is part whimsy, part social circle and part serious sport.

For the University of Florida Quidditch team, which is heading this weekend to the International Quidditch Association's World Cup in Kissimmee to compete against 80 teams from five nations and 22 states, it's also serious competition. Last year, the team made it to the final round of the competition and finished second to the team whose college is where the Harry Potter-inspired sport was born.

But at a Saturday practice a week before the cup, with the roar of the Orange and Blue game in the background, the reality of a sport inspired by a children's fantasy series on a campus where football players are demigods became apparent when four students walked by the field.

Two orange polos tucked into khaki shorts trailed by two gameday sun dresses stopped for a moment to try to understand the scene. They took their sunglasses off and put them back on. They understood; they laughed; they pointed.

Their amusement continued until the distinctly clustered goal posts and players with worn scrimmage brooms fashioned from PVC pipe tucked snugly between running legs disappeared from sight.

Emily Troilo, dubbed the team mom, turned while sitting cross-legged on the sidelines and said, "We get that a lot."

The practice continued, and the gawking went almost entirely unnoticed by the team as it ran strategic plays and cracked jokes about one another.

Three couples are on the team, and the whole crew had a trip planned to go to the beach together the next day. They love what they're doing. One player took out a loan in order to pay his way last year to the World Cup in New York.

Troilo said there is definitely a stigma associated with Quidditch and that at a school with a social climate and sports culture like UF, it's more difficult to recruit players than elsewhere.

A girl then collided with a broom, losing part of her tooth, serving as reminder that this is more sport than game. Troilo said some wear mouth guards because such injuries are not rare, but other than that no padding or protective gear is worn.

Quidditch for the non-magical began in 2005 behind a dorm at Middlebury College in Vermont with 30 participants wearing towels duct-taped to their shirts and garbage cans for goals, said Alex Benepe, the commissioner and marketing director for the International Quidditch Association. Now, there are more than 1,000 teams registered globally, and 250 teams are members of the league, meaning they are ranked and play in official games and tournaments. Capes aren't allowed to be worn anymore.

Benepe is a 2009 Middlebury College graduate and has been around since the sport's inception. He said he feels the future of Quidditch has more to do with the sport than it does with Harry Potter. Benepe himself is just an average Harry Potter fan, he said.

Here's how it works: Seven people from each team are on the field. The Keeper guards the three goals on either end; three Chasers are on the offense and trying to score with the Quaffle (a volleyball); the two Beaters are on defense with two Bludgers (flattened dodgeballs); and the Seeker is in constant search of the Snitch, a neutral player with no boundaries, who once caught, ends the game. You can be "knocked off your broom" by being hit with a Bludger or dropping it. When you're knocked off, you have to return to your own team's goal before continuing to play. The scoring is on a 10-point scale, with the capture of the Snitch totaling 50 points. The team with the most points when the Snitch is caught wins the game.

What makes the game unique is that it's full-contact, coed and designed to have very little stoppage time.

"A lot of people come for Harry Potter and stay for the sport," Benepe said.

Anna Morgan is a freshman English major, and she said that before she came to UF she knew she wanted to play Quidditch. She heard UF had a good team and watched the World Cup on YouTube last year while still in high school.

"Quidditch is my family here," she said.

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