In quidditch, athletes see compelling option

by Claire Nobles / Beacon Staff • November 5, 2014

Emerson Students play Quidditch at the Combine
Emerson Students play Quidditch at the Combine

It was spring 2013, just after Xavier Garcia’s sophomore season on the Emerson baseball team had finished. The outfielder decided to quit the team over the summer, putting an end to his ten-year baseball career.

“I used to have this passion that I wanted to play baseball,” said Garcia, a journalism major. “After a couple years here at Emerson, I said, ‘You know what? I really don’t enjoy playing baseball anymore.’”

Now a senior, Garcia finds himself once again as a member of a team — but this time on a completely different field. This fall, you can find the ex-Emerson athlete on Boston Common, broom in hand, playing quidditch. And he’s not the only athlete out there, either. Although the league isn’t officially recognized by Emerson and receives no college funds, players said they have found a more rewarding—and sometimes, more successful—opportunity in quidditch.

 

Commitment Issues 

Senior Dan Makie, one of Garcia’s former teammates, said he quit the baseball team after his sophomore season for similar reasons.

“It was a huge commitment. There were friends I had on the team who told me to play, but it was too much to do,” said Makie, a visual and media arts major. “I had other friends playing quidditch and it was only once or twice a week, so I just went to that.”

Makie, a former outfielder, was on the baseball team for one season. He played quidditch as a freshman and then joined the baseball team as a sophomore. After quitting the baseball team, he returned to quidditch for his junior year.

Garcia said making the jump from the baseball diamond to the quidditch pitch was easy because of his sports experience.

“Obviously if you’re an athlete switching over to quidditch, you’re going to have much more of an upper hand to the game simply because you’re athletic,” said Garcia. “You know how to throw a ball, you know how to catch the ball, you have a better feel to the game — not better than baseball — but you just have a better understanding coming into it. That’s why I liked quidditch.”

Makie, who played baseball for three years in high school along with running track, agreed with Garcia.

“Throwing the ball was much easier,” said Makie. “[Throwing it] through the hoop was pretty simple, especially from a farther distance.” 

 

The fantastical world of Quidditch 

Quidditch is based on the magical sport of the same name from the popular Harry Potter series. The game is played with seven members on each team, who, instead of flying like in the series, must run with brooms in between their legs at all times. Teams gain points by throwing a ball — the “quaffle” — through a hoop, and catching the “snitch”, which also marks the end of the game. The snitch, a tennis ball inside a sock, is worn tucked into the waistband of a volunteer who runs around the field to avoid being caught. 

Emerson established its quidditch program in 2008. According to US Quidditch, the game’s national governmental body, quidditch was originally adapted in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont, and is now played at over 300 universities and high schools across the nation. 

Quidditch at Emerson is split into two leagues. There are six less-competitive intramural, or “house,” teams that play against each other throughout the academic year. There are also two teams that play against other schools, made up of intramural players chosen through tryouts at the beginning of the fall semester. These squads—Emerson College Quidditch and Boston Riot—compete in various tournaments to qualify for US Quidditch’s annual tournament, the World Cup, held every spring.

 

Money, money, money

All sports in the athletic department receive certain resources from Emerson, like funding, gym space, athletic trainers, and coaches. Quidditch, however, is not recognized under the department, nor by the Student Government Association, so it can’t receive money or support from the college.

Though Emerson’s quidditch league has applied to be recognized by SGA twice before, it has yet to receive any recognition or funding due to liability concerns, as the Beacon reported in 2012. Senior Leeanne Dillmann, one of the captains of Emerson College Quidditch, said the league hasn’t applied again since then. Instead, Emerson’s quidditch program hosts its own fundraisers throughout the year.

Dillmann, who has also been on the school’s cross country team since her freshman year, said the school’s contributions make a difference for the recognized teams.

“You definitely have to be a lot more innovative and hands-on when you do quidditch,” said Dillmann. “[The players] are the coach and the captain, so we’re organizing the buses, the hotels, and all the logistical things that when you’re on cross country, they just tell you to show up and then you show up.” 

Emerson College Quidditch made it to the semifinals in the last World Cup; the three other teams were Texas State University, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University. All of these schools have over 30,000 enrolled students, and each of their quidditch programs is officially recognized and receives funding, unlike Emerson’s league.

Garcia said the unrecognized status of quidditch gives it an advantage over baseball. Not having to rely on the school for funding gives quidditch teams more freedom.

“The time commitment thing is there, but [quidditch is] much more free about it, because the whole thing is college-student run,” Garcia said. “It’s all tailored around the students, unlike in baseball, where you have to show up to this or you’re going to be benched.” 

 

King of the Emerson athletes

In the 2013 season for the Lions baseball team, when Garcia and Makie last played, Emerson went 2-27. The following semester, the women’s cross country team placed last at the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship meet. Yet Emerson College Quidditch—besides making the semifinals in this year’s World Cup, out of 80 teams—placed second in last fall’s Northeast Regional Championship in New York and Turtle Cup Invitational in Maryland.

“It’s funny because I feel like we get more credibility for playing quidditch than being an Emerson athlete,” said Dillmann. “Since Emerson has such a successful [quidditch] program, they’re kind of seen as the athletic program.”

Patricia Nicol, Emerson’s athletic director, said although she had never heard of the game before coming to the college earlier this year, she’s supportive of athletes who choose to participate.

“We encourage any extracurricular activity because we want to integrate our student athletes with the mainstream of the campus,” Nicol said. “Quidditch is such a popular sport [here] that we support their involvement, we just hope they don’t get hurt.”

Garcia said he’s seen a more competitive attitude among his quidditch teammates.

“Everyone is so pumped to play quidditch,” he said. “When I showed up for a baseball game, everyone was like ‘One down, twenty something to go.’ In quidditch, you take every week really seriously.”

Though cross country is an official sport at Emerson, Dillmann said she sees similarities in it to quidditch.

“Cross country isn’t the most legit sport here, so I think both teams kind of have a laid back and quirky attitude because we’re both the underdogs in a way of the sport system,” she said. “So I think everyone [on both teams] is really grounded and down-to-earth.”

Garcia, who said he got involved with quidditch because of friends, agreed with Dillmann.

“Baseball’s a sport, and quidditch is more of a physical activity,” said Garcia. “It’s much more laid-back and much more fun and enjoyable to play.”