May 11, 2012

REPRESENTING ICELAND:

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE SURPRISINGLY VIOLENT QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP: The Quidditch World Cup sounds dorky, and make no mistake: it is. But these sorcery-loving Harry Potter fans play pretty rough, as ERIC HANSEN found out when he captained a bad-news team of ex-athletes, ultimate Frisbee studs, slobs, drunks, and some people he knows from Iceland. Brooms up, and may the best Muggles win. (ERIC HANSEN, June 2012, Outside)

QUIDDITCH WAS INVENTED at Vermont's Middlebury College in 2005, when a group of buddies--fans of J.K. Rowling, of course--got tired of playing bocce and decided to improvise something more exciting that involved brooms and bath-towel capes. They drew up a loose Quidditch rulebook and encouraged other students at tony schools to play.

In 2007, a reporter from USA Today covered "the first inter-collegiate Quidditch match." Never mind that this was just a scrimmage between the Middlebury guys and some of their high school friends at Vassar. Within months of the story's appearance, the intramural sport had magically spread from campus to campus. With an organizing committee at its helm, it attracted more teams and volunteer administrators and fresh coverage every year--"a remarkable ascension," declared Time magazine in 2010. The height of the mania quickly became the annual World Cup, held each fall and open to any teams registered with the Bedford Hills, New York-based International Quidditch Association.

Two months before the World Cup, this magazine's editorial director asked if I was interested in recruiting a team. Why he asked me I wasn't sure. I certainly wasn't a Potterhead, as fans call themselves. I'd never bought a pewter wand, like my nephew, or a co-branded plush toy, like my niece. I'd never visited the Wizarding World theme park in Orlando, and I certainly hadn't taken sides with Stephen King, who has maintained that the Harry Potter books will last "not just for the decade but for the ages." For that matter, I hadn't taken sides against Yale scholar Harold Bloom, who believed, conversely, that "Rowling's mind is so governed by clich├ęs and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing." As to the world-shaping powers of Rowling, I was happily agnostic. I hadn't read any of the books and fell asleep when the movies were screened on planes.

The more I Googled around, however, the more Quidditch piqued my interest. I imagined writing something snarky, maybe poking fun at how Quidditch started out as a decidedly preppy sport, heedless of Rowling's Quidditch Through the Ages, which suggests the game be played on "deserted moorland far from Muggle habitations." Or I'd lampoon its comical misfires: before settling on a tennis ball in a sock, for example, some teams had tried using a remote-controlled helicopter for the snitch.

As for the sport itself, it just seemed like a hoot. A bit of rough and tumble, not a terrible amount of running, harmless competitors. If I gathered some fit New Yorkers, we'd surely have a blast and maybe even win a few games. Injuries were the last thing on my mind.

A week after I contacted the International Quidditch Association, one of the founders--Alex Benepe, now 25 and commissioner of the IQA--e-mailed to say a spot had opened. I was bummed when he strongly suggested that we register as Division 2. Weren't we--whoever we would turn out to be--all-star material? He assured me we'd have challenges enough, playing the likes of Syracuse, Duke, and other teams that had actually been practicing for a year. Also, he wanted to know, since we would be replacing a team of New Zealanders, was there any way we could field an international squad? I told him to register us as Iceland--Hrund's homeland and one of the rare countries in the Northern Hemisphere not already represented--and we were off to the races.

Or not. We made a big recruitment push via e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook and through an announcement on Outside's website, but we struggled to sign players.

"Come, win glory!" I said. No! came the replies.

"The more you tell me about this, the less interested I am," said my brother-in-law. No one showed up to the open tryouts in Central Park two weeks later, which happened to take place during a freak snowstorm, and the OMPIQWCT's only practice session, in Central Park a week before the World Cup, enticed just five strangers and acquaintances.

Our confidence grew nonetheless.

"They're history majors and competitors in the Science Cup and stuff," said Josh. "We're big and old and intimidating."

One Spring  at Colgate, we played cricket on the Quad,  with a tennis ball wrapped in tape, a sawed off goalie stick, and milk cartons for the wickets.  When we had to pause to let two professors cross the field, one turned to the other and said: "At least we're importing a better class of ruffians these days."
Posted by at May 11, 2012 2:34 PM
  

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