New York Hosts a Quidditch Tournament

By Sabrina Khan

Kneeling beside a small broom on the ground of Norman’s Landing in Central Park, 17-year-old Jane Jacoby closed her eyes and waited. Beside her waited six others, and yards across from them, another seven. Moments later, “Brooms up!” someone in the middle of the pitch shouted, and Jacoby’s eyes shot open. She and the others surged forward, straddling the brooms between their legs.

A beater on the New York Badassilisks – one of 95 teams that competed in the Fifth Annual International Quidditch Association Quidditch World Cup on Randall’s Island, on Nov. 12 and 13 – Jacoby was preparing to win.

“I know that we’re gonna do really well and I’m so excited,” she said from the sidelines.

Adapted by the IQA from the fictional sport made famous by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the films based on them, the IQA Quidditch World Cup was the ultimate Harry Potter experience and celebration of fandom for these teams and more than 1,200 spectators. But as in any tournament, preparation was key.

Running practice drills and scrimmages at Central Park nearly every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening since September, the team had been training for the Cup with their tournament 21, a group of 10 women and 11 men. Every play and player had to abide by the standard rules of the IQA, which also keeps track of more than 300 Quidditch teams registered from all over the globe.

From the page to the pitch

The New York Badassilisks line up to compete against Hendrix College in the 5th Annual Quidditch World Cup.

Often described as an amalgamation of rugby, lacrosse, basketball and dodge ball, IQA Quidditch is an aggressive contact sport, with body checking and tackling allowed. Each team has two beaters who use dodge balls as bludgers to bump and dismount players from their brooms, three chasers who use volleyballs as quaffles to score points through three hula-hoop goal posts and a keeper who mans the goal posts. The seeker remains in charge of grabbing the snitch, called a “snitch snatch,” to end the game with 30 additional points (instead of the novel’s 150), at the most opportune moment.

In the 2010 World Cup, excellent play and snitch snatches led the Badassilisks to 14th place. It was a monumental feat for the team that had just formed that year when members of The Group That Shall Not Be Named, the largest New York-based Harry Potter fan club with close to 1,000 members, decided to create its own team.

With more established teams playing this year, the competition was greater. Yet the head coach, Jared Rohrer, 35, wasn’t concerned. Even with a ripe crop of new players recruited just this summer, he was hopeful.

“My team’s actually pretty good,” he said before the tournament. “My new players are good. They’re fast, they score well, and they move well.” In fact, his team advanced to the semifinals and unofficially came in fourth place in this year’s competition.

Competitive by nature, Rohrer takes the sport highly seriously. His philosophy is to play hard but always have fun.

“The one thing I remind them of is that we’re playing Quidditch,” he says. “That’s just a great thing by itself.”

With teams of men and women playing together, Quidditch teaches mutual respect, says the IQA chief operations officer, Alicia Radford, 22. Quidditch also welcomes all personality types, athletic or otherwise.

“Quidditch is a very inclusive game and has a way of drawing in a lot of people who have never been athletes before,” says Radford.

A beater, Caitlin Dean, 27, considered herself highly unathletic before joining the Badassilisks. Having learned about the team through the Group That Shall Not Be Named, she joined because she felt it would offer her much needed physical release and an activity she could genuinely enjoy.

“Being a part of the team that plays something so ridiculous and aggressive and dangerous and fun and silly all at the same time,” she says, “I felt that would change my life.”

Nearly all the Badassalisks share that sentiment. Their ages range from 14 to 44. And while most Quidditch teams are associated with universities, the Badassilisks come from all over the tristate area. A common love of Harry Potter is the one constant. The “muggle” (human) adaptation of the game stays extremely close to the magical one. The major difference: No one levitates.

While players cannot fly on brooms, the IQA does require team members to straddle them, making play more difficult and rigorous. There is also no walnut-sized golden snitch with wings. Instead, an impartial snitch runner dressed in bright yellow dangles a sock carrying a tennis ball from the back of his or her shorts. And seeking the snitch is no easy task as the snitch runner alone can play sans broom. The seeker must scavenge the pitch on a broom while the snitch roams around freely.

Spectators, tourists and joggers at Central Park took notice. One asked, “Is this like a Quidditch?”

“Not like Quidditch,” said a snitch runner, Ryan Blaney, 23, “It is Quidditch.”

An official snitch runner for the World Cup, Blaney, a Marine and former Geneseo College Quidditch player, was lending his services to the team at Central Park to help sharpen its game before the tournament.

According to Blaney, “Snitches are allowed to get away with anything short of breaking the law,” just so long as players don’t get hurt.

He’s gone so far as taking piggyback rides from players to throwing mud in their faces to distract them from catching the snitch. Practice with a seasoned snitch runner like him helped a lot, and a week later, the Badassilisks’ efforts showed.

Brooms Up!

Two teammates practice playing Quidditch at Norman’s Landing, Central Park

In the Badassilisks’ first game against Hendrix College, the team triumphed 140-30. Eddie Rocco, 27, a seeker caught the snitch in a dive and acrobatic tumble to thunderous applause from his team in emerald green with snakes on their jerseys. The Badassilisks went on to beat Carnegie Mellon University, 40 to 30, Rochester Institute of Technology, with 100 to 60, Ryerson University, with 100-20, and SUNY Fredonia in the quarter final, with 130-60.

The venom ran out when the Badassilisks 140-60 in a semifinal match against Purdue University and the entire team took it to heart. They had played hard, and gritty stains lined their uniforms. But Purdue retained a lead and the Badassilisks bit the dust.

However, the assistant coach, Chris Berdoz, 36, was most impressed by the team’s performance.

“Our team’s defense is phenomenal when backed into a corner, and with a few things being slightly different, that game could have ended up in our favor easily,” he said.

That said, many felt the Badassilisks’ journey was a great success. The team–whose supporters included dozens of fan club spectators, a woman dressed as Harry Potter villainess Bellatrix Lestrange, in black dress robes with visible stitches on her fitted bodice and nightmarish, jet black hair, and a makeshift mascot of another woman wearing fangs and a green sequined gown cascading down the grass to appear like the Badassilisk serpent–exited the Quidditch World Cup Division 2 playoffs at No. 4. That was quite the win by their standards.

Looking back at the journey, Jacoby says her team had emerged champions either way.

“I’m extremely proud of us,” she says. “We really came together and worked hard,” she says. “The end was a little disappointing, but the farther I get from it, the better I feel about our performance.”