Today I have my debut at Texas Monthly, which is mainly about the domination of central Texas teams in the new-ish sport of muggle quidditch:
“The level of play in the southwest region is at such a higher level than the rest of the country,” says Beth Clem, a first-year graduate student at Texas State who plays on the university’s team. She credits this, partly, to the state’s football culture. Despite its cutesy origins, quidditch is a high-intensity contact sport, an advantage in Texas, where kids grow up on gridiron. “Half of the guys on our teams played football. They want to tackle; they want to be aggressive. We’re big, so we just wanna go through people.”
Ethan Sturm, a player from Tufts University who is the co-founder and current managing editor of the quidditch analysis website, The Eighth Man, puts it a bit more bluntly: “You’ve got this hub in Texas where the players are simply more athletic than in other parts of the country.”
This proclivity to a certain brand of athleticism helps on the field, but Sturm also points out that it’s a numbers game. UT, A&M, and Texas State all have tens of thousands of students, giving them a larger pool of talent to draw from. The Lone Star Club, which is based in Austin and isn’t affiliated with a university, can attribute its ascent to attracting players who have graduated from nearby schools and want to keep playing.
One more factor favoring Texas teams is the logistics of the quidditch season. The game is played most of the year—the official season runs from the first day of classes in the fall to the last in the spring—and the southwest doesn’t suffer harsh winters, allowing teams in this region to play and practice more frequently.
But what catapulted Texas—more specifically UT—to the top of the league was an innovative technique it introduced to the game that radically changed the way it’s played. Two years ago, at World Cup VI, it seemed every member on UT’s team “was fluent in two-handed catches,” according to Sturm.
This is now the second time I’ve written about quidditch (the first was earlier this year for Vice Sports, about a documentary on the sport called MudBloods).
What I’ve learned having done these two pieces is that it’s just plain hard to write about a sport that so many people don’t know much about. You end up spending a lot of time writing about the mechanics of the game (and this one is particularly complicated). And you only get so much space.
Doing the TM piece, I interviewed 5 central Texas quidditch players and I ended up asking them a lot about the sport that wasn’t able to make it into the piece because of where we ended up putting the focus. But I really enjoyed these interviews and I am deeply interested in the people who choose to play quidditch. So, below are so excerpts that didn’t make into the TM piece but that I want to share just the same.
The teams are always co-ed. Each team has 6 players on the pitch for most of the game, 7 at the end. Referring to both Title IX, the 1972 law that exists to try to create gender parity in sport in the US, and Platform 9 3/4 that is the train platform where Harry Potter and his friends catch the train to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, US Quidditch has the Title 9 3/4 rule, which states that “each team [can only] have a maximum of four players who identify as the same gender, excluding the seeker” on the pitch at one time. The game, unlike almost any other sport that exists, always has a mix of genders on the pitch.
“You need to experience it” serves as a kind of mantra among the supporters of quidditch generally, a request to those who would criticize the sport or make of it without ever really experiencing it. Quidditch players are intensely aware that running around on a field with a broomstick between their legs is the part of the game that brings the most scrutiny, but even that has a silver lining. Kenny Chilton, a senior on UT’s team, says that this particular aspect of the game means that “the people who play the sport have to have a certain humility because you are running with a broomstick between your legs.” The teams are often tight knit. Sarah Holub, a former UT quidditch team member and current member of Lonestar, says that “all of my best friends play the sport” and a big reason she plays the game is because it is “hard-hitting and it challenges me and I get to do it with my favorite people.”
The reason for this camaraderie is twofold: new team members, especially on university teams, must learn the game from scratch because quidditch is such a new but also complicated sport; and team members see each other a lot. Kaci Erwin, a fourth-year graduate student on UT’s team, says that the game means so much to the people who play it because every season “is such a journey. Half of our team is new, they’ve never seen quidditch played before,” she says. “They are just raw athletes. It’s such a journey to have to build them into superstar quidditch player.” And, on a larger scale, to build the team into a World Cup championship-caliber team.
These teams are full of well-conditioned, strong, smart athletes, which also means that there are a lot of hard-hitting tackles. At the southwest world cup qualifying tournament, it was a common sight to see people limping, arms, legs, hands, and feet wrapped or ice being applied. “It’s kind of a recipe for trouble,” Clem says about injuries in the sport. “It’s full contact. It’s co-ed. You can’t have any hard pads.” They see all kind of issues: “concussion number one,” Clem says, “feet, knees, ankle injuries, a lot of beaters get hand and finger injuries because you are holding that dodgeball as soon as that impact hit your hands. I’ve had a couple broken thumbs.”
But part of what the quidditch players love about the sport is the physicality, especially the women. “I love it,” Holub says of tackling. Erwin seconds this, saying “It has actually been my favorite part of the game. It’s so good.” Peavler agrees, too: “I love it. I’m a really aggressive person. I’ve always thought that was a fun aspect to it.” Erwin explains that a big part of this love of tackling from the women of quidditch is that “as a girl, you never get to play tackle sports.” Holub, who played volleyball in high school and college-level softball before picking up quidditch, says, “I feel like there is no more rewarding feeling than taking down someone bigger than me, someone who underestimates me. I love the feeling of tackling someone. I also love the feeling of not necessarily the action of getting tackled but when I can get back up and I haven’t been fazed, I think that feels really cool, too. I am a fan [of tackling].”
Chilton says that UT begins every season by saying to the new team members, “welcome to the team, we’re going to win the world cup.” Texas, who has won the last two world cups, will try to make that prediction come true for the third year in a row.