A (Not Quite) Magical Game

The first meeting of Elmhurst College’s newest student organization had just begun, and already from a back corner of the Blume Board Room in the Frick Center came a question. “Are we going to wear capes?” someone wanted to know.

You don’t ordinarily hear a lot of discussion of cape-wearing in the Frick Center, but then there is nothing very ordinary about the Elmhurst College Quidditch Society. Quidditch is, of course, Harry Potter’s favorite game, and the ECQS must be the only club on campus devoted to translating a fictional pastime into an actual one. It won’t be easy. Harry Potter’s game is played above the rooftops by teams of wizards on flying brooms. The members of the ECQS, because they lack Potter-like magical powers, will have to play a more earthbound version that has lately become popular on college campuses: Players race around a field with broomsticks between their legs, scoring points by whipping volleyballs through elevated hoops.

The prospect of playing quidditch on the mall—and of turning Elmhurst, even for a few shining moments, into a quasi-Hogwarts—was enough to inspire an impressive turnout for the club’s first meeting. Thirty-five new quidditch players signed up. “What Harry Potter fan hasn’t dreamed of playing quidditch?” said first-year Christopher Puenner, when I asked him about the game’s appeal. “I mean, not to be corny, but this is like a dream come true.”

The society is largely the work of junior nursing major Jessie Cardella. Like most of the members of her club—for that matter, like seemingly most of her generation—Cardella grew up with Harry Potter. She started reading J.K. Rowling’s novels with her family when she was in third grade. Harry and his friends have been fixtures in her life ever since. She had heard talk of a quidditch club coming to Elmhurst before, but when nothing materialized, she decided to take action. She presented her plans to the Student Government Association earlier this month. “Once I explained that I wasn’t planning on actually flying, they thought it was a good idea,” she said. Her society was granted provisional recognition. (Other startups this semester: a baton-twirling group and a free-thought society.)

“This college is really accepting. You’re not going to hear someone say, ‘Oh, that’s stupid.’” said first-year Christian Marty at the club’s first meeting. “It’s more like, ‘Go for it.’”

Cardella spread word about the club with fliers and table tents in the Frick Center. To drive attendance at the first meeting, she promised homemade cauldron cakes (“bewitchingly delicious”) and a screening of the sixth Harry Potter movie. The turnout surprised even her. “I’ve never started anything before,” she said, confessing to a little nervousness about running her first meeting. “I wasn’t expecting this much interest.”

Cardella also registered her society with the International Quidditch Association, the sport’s governing body. The IQA recently staged the fourth annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City, which was won by a team from Middlebury College. (Our accompanying photo shows action from a recent collegiate championship match.) It was at Middlebury in 2005 that students first played a version of quidditch modified for the limitations of the non-magical. Since then, clubs have formed at 400 colleges and hundreds more high schools, according to the IQA. The sport even comes with corporate sponsorships now. (Check out Alivan’s, maker of the official quidditch brooms of the IQA. The company’s web site notes that the brooms don’t really fly: “Please do not attempt to use them for that purpose.”)

Cardella plans to organize a few scrimmage games on campus in the coming weeks to help players learn the game. For a sport that originated in a kids’ book, quidditch is said to get pretty rough. “It’s like field hockey and rugby with a little dodgeball thrown in,” said Sam Bartlett, a first-year who played the game at Hinsdale Central High School. “It’s just good nerdy fun, but it still takes a little coordination.”

But first some logistical problems remain to be solved. The society needs a home field. It needs funds. It needs to find three dozen quidditch brooms.

If all goes well, by spring semester, Cardella may be organizing a full schedule of intramural games.

Capes, she said, will be optional.


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