~The following is excerpted from Eric Hansen's full article in Outside Magazine's
June 2012 issue.
Sunset on a Saturday in early November. The playing fields of Randall’s Island, New York City.
It’s near the end of the first day of a surprisingly violent 2011 Quidditch World Cup, and we of
the Outside Magazine Partially Icelandic Quidditch World Cup Team – OMPIQWCT for short –
are ready to kick some Potter ass.
Some 2,000 chipper, ethnically diverse, and not wholly fit competitors, mostly high school and
college students, mill around the bleachers, the Port-Potties, the team tent area. The line for the
waffle cart stretches nearly to the East River. Everywhere there are fans – dads wearing shirts
that read: Proud Parent of a McGill Quidditch Player, alongside teens in capes and the crimson-and-
gold scarves of Hogwarts. Only five years old, this grand tournament of nonfantasy Quidditch
will draw some 10,000 paying spectators. A FOX newscaster once called it “a cross between the
Super Bowl and a medieval fair.”
“Look here,” hollers one of our offensive players, waving a hand as we trot around the field,
catching and throwing inflatable balls.
“Let’s monopolize the bludgers,” says our 39-year-old co-captain Josh.
“And then just let the chasers do their thing,” says our 28 –year-old top scorer, Dan.
What are they talking about? I’m still not sure. In creating this real-world adaptation of the
fantasy sport enjoyed by Harry and Ron and Hermione, numerous concessions to magic-
quashing forces like gravity had to be made, and the result is best understood by those who
score high on standardized tests. For example, the official rule books contains illustrations of 33
different hand signals that a referee might make while blowing whistle in any of four ways.
But here are the basics: Play happens on an egg-shaped, 30 yard long pith. Each team fields
seven players, two of whom must be women, and all players have to wear team jerseys and
colored sweatbands. Critically, everyone must at all times straddle a broom at least 46 inches
long, to simulate flying.
The goal is to score as many points as possible in games that typically last around 45 minutes.
Ten points are earned by offensive players (chasers) throwing a deflated volleyball –called a
quaffle- through one of the opposing team’s goals, which consist of three hula-hoops arranged
vertically atop PVC-pipe stands.
Thirty points are awarded, and the game ends, when a player grabs the snitch. At Hogwarts, the
snitch hovers and darts of its own accord; here, it’s a tennis ball in a sock hung from the
waistband of an unaffiliated volunteer called the snitch runner.
The snitch runner is usually an off-season cross-country star and is not limited to the field. Five
minutes after he or she is “released” at the start of the game, each team gets to send one unlucky
member – the seeker – in pursuit, sometimes up trees.
The quaffle is moved down field rugby style, with running and passing. Attacks are stopped
when a defenseman, called a beater, beans a player with one of three gym balls (bludgers) or
when an offensive chaser uses his free arm to tackle the opposing chaser and wrestle the quaffle
free. A goalie – the keeper- guards his team’s hula-hoops, usually by swatting the quaffle out of
the air with his hand.
Or so we thought. Ten minutes into our showdown with Rollins, we are frozen in a 10-10 tie,
and their stocky, long-haired goalie isn’t even near his hoops. He keeps abandoning his post
and trying to blitz the length of the field to score himself.
“Wrap him up, tackle him!” a teammate yells at me when the goalie takes off a third time. I try,
but he barges past with the flailing arms and unblinking eyes of a proper Potter psycho. For
reasons unknown, just shy of our goal the bastard chooses to ignore the hoops and instead
clobbers my wife, Hrund, who isn’t even in the game.
The irony only increases. After some discussion, the referee awards the goalie a yellow card,
apparently abased on some rule- or precedent for unprovoked assault of a spectator. “We can’t
give him a red card,” the ref explains, “because she wasn’t actually playing.”
Jolted into action, the OMPIQWCT goes on to score 10 mostly
unanswered points, and we win 120-40. Sorry, nerds. But there’s a
war on out here.
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.
The more I Googled around, however, the more Quidditch piqued my interest.
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.
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, wand 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.”
Bolstering the authority of this statement was the fact that Josh had once led an inexperienced
team of New Yorkers to the finals of the World Elephant Polo Championships in Nepal, another
competition of indeterminate ridiculousness. I immediately named him co-captain.
Things were shaping up to be fun. But there were portents of violence, like when I spoke to a
longtime player who gave me strange-sounding advice that I relayed to the team.
“’Hide your girls’?” Josh kept asking. “What does that even mean?”
Team OMPIQWCT came together for the first time less than an hour before our debut. Our
collective state was, I’d say, a bit nervous. The three Frisbee boys – as we’d taken to calling Dan,
Jack and Tim - walked around to scout the competition. Twenty-four-year old Russell, who
works in animation and was our most eager player, brought a competition-level broom, while
Josh fretted over the tall kitchen sweepers I’d picked up at the hardware store the night before.
“These are way too long,” he groused.
“But they’re lightweight,” I said.
He immediately set to work shortening one, hashing the metal handle end with a rock until it
was a twisted mess. How were we to know that brooms were supplied?
“Anyone who goes to Outdoor Icelandic, please come to Field 9,” an announcer interrupted,
confusing us for a college. This was it, the moment when all our minutes of practice would be
“Brooms down!” said the announcer.
Seven of us dropped a knee behind the seven wooden brooms lying on the baseline and closed
our eyes, as instructed.
“The snitch is loose!” the announcer said, signaling that the man with the ball dangling from his
shorts was running away from the field.
“Brooms up!” the announcer said.
Everyone opened their eyes and ran toward the center of the field, brooms wagging like god
tails, to grab the gym balls and volleyball that rest there.
For the first ten minutes, members of the OMPIQWCT ran around in pandemonium. We
collided with each other, tripped and fell, and simply forgot to straddle the brooms like
“Icelander! Get on your groom,” the announcer barked. “It’s why we play. To fly.”
Soon, some of us were exhausted by the ceaseless back and forth and subbed out. But not the
Frisbee boys. Dan had an almost omniscient field sense. Jack could throw a ball accurately while
falling sideways. Our opponents, a short-legged group called CAMPS, swarmed toward Tim,
but he covered 50 yards before they could traverse the narrow field.
Russell was also committed. He followed the snitch to the parking lot, lost him under some
bleachers, and then ran back and snatched the sock near a bank of folding chairs. Some 20
minutes later, we had trounced CAMPS, 110-30.
A bloody cage fight it was not. CAMPS turned out to be made up mostly of high school kids
from a youth ministry in Massachusetts – a fact I chose not to spread around.
Still, we had won our first game in a sport we hardly knew. The sun was shining and the river
sparkling, and we, an endorphin-flush team of randoms, had achieved a certain esprit de corps.
“I’m really glad I came,” said Thaddeus.
“I think we can take this thing,” said Dan.
A fanboy ran up to one of our women. “You’re the best beater I’ve ever seen,” he said, and then
ran away. Birgir led us in the Icelandic cheer he’d devised.
“Drepa, drepa, drekka blod!” we shouted, thinking then that “Kill, kill, drink blood” was the
height of irony.
Unlike Rowling’s fictional Department of Magical Games and Sports, which is said to list 700
potential fouls in a Quidditch game, the downloadable IQA rule book runs to a mere 55 pages
and is both simple and, in places, astoundingly complex. If a competitor chooses to study the
latest edition of the rule book, he can discern hints of the mayhem that can mar Quidditch at all
“The physical contact rules contained within this book allow for rough play,” an early
disclaimer reads. “Players are encouraged to … have first aid equipment and people trained in
first aid on hand during every game.”
But we didn’t study the rules that closely, the organizers never asked for our liability release
waives, and I didn’t catch a whiff of the terrifying stench of Quid Kid hostility until I ambled out
into the parking lot at the south gate and ended up chatting with a tired ambulance driver who
was having a smoke. He was one of 30 EMTs posted at the event.
“Easy duty,” I said.
“This is just the quiet before another storm,” He corrected.
“I’ve had eight concussions, two people taken to the hospital, bloody noses, scrapes, twisted
ankles. I stopped counting injuries after ten.”
My teammates weren’t as surprised by these stats as I expected. One recalled stopping a young
female chaser just short of the goal, only to have the girl yell an extremely unprintable comment.
Another teammate recalled watching a man in Division 1 left a girl, spin her like the blades of a
helicopter, and throw her to the first. The violence was not only pervasive but gender neutral.
Hide your girls, indeed.
In Division 1, where teams were often hand-selected from college-wide tryouts, the savagery
appeared coordinated, with flanks of rhino-like teammates blocking for Quidditch chasers who
could pass as junior college running backs. Though illegal, many of their clotheslines to the
neck and elbows to the face looked about as accidental as gravity.
In the team tent area, life was more amiable. One of Quidditch’s founders strode around in top
hat and cane, an entourage trotting dutifully behind. I kept an eye out for the IQAS group
streaming live states and the professional PR woman and the resume-building undergrads – the
“HR coordinator,” the “Executive board members,” the “regional directors,” the “outreach
director,” the editor o the Quidditch magazine The Monthly Seer.
On the main stage, a Quidditch-themed fold duo - was it Harry and the Potters? the Whomping
I couldn’t believe that a crowd was actually listening to this, lapping up the allusions to Potter
characters and settings and plotlines.
And that’s when I got it. I was an old man. I’d completely missed the Potter craze, unlike so
many competitors on Randall’s Island, who had actually come of age in the midst of it. They,
with their “knobby knees,” had hit puberty with Half-Blood Prince.
The boys had begun to show some
patchy stubble just like Harry
did in Deathly Hallows. Maybe the
girls dared to trade hoodies for
their first lipstick-red dresses
after seeing Hermione pull it
Or maybe not. Whatever the case,
a new book or movie had appeared
roughly once a year of the past
decade, and because these kids
were the same as Harry and Ron
and Hermione, developments in
the books had mirrored changes
in their lives.
Harry Potter was in their guts, in their loins. This was their sport. And so sometimes, sure, they
had to gang-tackle or lance people in the kidneys. In the real-world Quidditch World Cup,
that’s just what it took to conquer evil.
The next day, we squared off against the team from Johns Hopkins, the not quite Ivy League
school in Baltimore, in our last game of pool play. We felt super-psyched but immediately
realized that we were in for a new kind of trouble: nagging.
“We’ve noticed them off their brooms — will you watch them?” one of their captains asked the
“Yeah, we’ve seen ’em,” their gangly co-captain said. “They’re not on their brooms.”
True, we were still struggling with the basics of “flying,” but it also must be noted that I was
wearing sunscreen on my face and worn-out tennis shoes on my feet, while the gangly co-
captain had on steel-cage lacrosse goggles, a mouth guard, and cleats, and had rubbed blue war
paint under her eyes.
Sure enough, the announcer shouted “Brooms up!” and the ref started handing out yellow cards
— mostly to us. I got one for tackling from behind. Tim earned one for tackling with both hands.
Two of our goals and one impressive snitch grab were dismissed for murky reasons. All of these
were prompted by whines from the Hopkins co-captain.
“Are you refereeing this match or are they?” Birgir asked the ref at one point.
Not that Hopkins lacked muscle. They had some of the most aggressive women in all of
Potterdom, and halfway through the game their snitch got aggro, too, slamming Russell to the
pitch. Our biggest Quidditch fan, our tireless snitch-chasing seeker, found himself on the
receiving end of a WWF-style takedown. The paramedics arrived and diagnosed a dislocated
Unknown to us, the body slam had actually torn Russell’s biceps off his shoulder. At the time,
his grunts and teeth grinding simply served as a call to arms, a reminder that nothing unites a
Quidditch team or a nation like a common enemy. We forced an 80–70 win in front of packed
Our first real fans howled. Online, friends of the International Quidditch Association posted
comments like “They beat Hopkins!” and “They totally dominated” and “Icies are hardcore.”
Jack riled up the crowd further by throwing a standing backflip.
Two and a half hours later, we faced off against Hopkins again. The finals bracket seeded us
third, behind Purdue and Illinois State, but in an inexcusably amateur scheduling mistake,
organizers pitted us against Hopkins in the quarterfinals, our first single-elimination round.
I wish I could say more, but I have little recollection of the two hours or so surrounding the
game. According to my teammates, early on a slippery Hopkins chaser fumbled the quaffle near
our goal, he and I lunged for it, and his broom walloped me in the back of the head. Another
injury that surprised no one.
“Eric has a concussion and we walk to the paramedics,” wrote Hrund, who picked up my
notebook. “There is a girl with a broken wrist.”
“We win the 2nd game against Hopkins by 20 points, after having grabbed the snitch four
times,” she continued. “The first three times were disqualified for Frisbee Tim being too
aggressive/physical on the snitch. The fourth time was supposedly too aggressive as well but
the snitch didn’t want to be thrown to the ground anymore. He was a small, mildly injured kid
with glasses and a uniform covered in dirt by the fourth grab.”
In our next game, the OMPIQWCT was shouting and running plays, steamrolling and posting
up. Frisbee Jack, for example, attempted a diving tackle and missed, and an RIT girl stomped
her cleated foot on his throwing hand. He yelped in pain. Seeing him roll over and clutch his
throbbing paw, the girl pointed at him and yelled to the ref: “Off his broom!”
Some 30 minutes in, Frisbee Tim spied the snitch and dropped into a scary, hands-forward
grappler’s crouch. But an RIT player, so small as to go almost unnoticed, sneaked up and made
off with the sock. RIT won, 90–70.
Hrund, Russell (in a sling), and I cheered the sweat-drenched OMPIQWCT as they dragged
their exhausted selves off the pitch. Later that night, in Icahn Stadium, Purdue would go on to
take home the championship vodka-bottle-spray-painted-gold-to-look-like-a-trophy trophy that
went to the winner of Division 2.
I was sad to have lost in the semis but more than satisfied with third place and happy to return
to my very non-magical life without any permanent injuries.
“Rugby is dangerous enough when you don’t have a broom stuck between your legs,” said
Birgir, and we nodded in agreement.
Later, everyone e-mailed me their thoughts about the weekend, and most echoed Josh, who
wrote: “I wish I could say it wasn’t actually fun, and that I didn’t want to win, but that would be
Russell was the exception. It took three months before orthopedic surgeons reattached his
biceps to his shoulder, using five titanium pins, and he still hasn’t regained full use of his right
arm. “But I don’t have any regrets,” he wrote. “I’d go brooms up with you guys anytime.” He
plans to frame his cut-up jersey and hang it in his apartment, above the Shadow Chaser broom
we all signed.
*Photo by Jake
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