A Sport Called Quidditch

Years ago, I wrote a book called Trisk, which tells the story of an aspiring athlete named Curtis and his best friend Lucas as they journeyed to play in the major leagues of the greatest sport the world has ever known, a sport known by the masses only as Trisk.  Trisk is a game where 4 teams of 15 players skydive out of an airplane into an abandoned city to fight for control of 4 “Trisk Balls” in a period of 3 hours while literally billions of people ogle at them for fun.  (Yes, I predicted Fortnite.)  Needless to say, I was a sports geek then, and I’m a sports geek now.  Some things never change, like the juicy chicken breast of a Chick-fil-a sandwich or the tender, flaky crust of a Chick-fil-a nugget.

This is the paragraph where you think I’m going to talk about Quidditch.  False.  I’m going to talk about the time when I was ten years old, and my best friend Dave and I used to play on the front lawn where he played Link from Zelda, and I played some ghastly boss (usually named after one of my particularly spite-worthy teachers), and his objective was to push me around and fight me until I gasped for surrender.  We rolled around on the ground laughing forever.  Those were the days, Dave.  (Those were also the days, Dave, because I used to sneak into his house and play his Xbox to avoid the thirty-minute time limit my mom set on me playing video games.)

Ever since Those Days Which Were, Dave, I had never quite regained the pure joy, the pure energy that I got for creating – and then playing – something totally original and new, something that I could explain – and then re-explain, a thousand times – to doe-eyed girls and they would actually be interested in what I was explaining to them about!  (I have tried to get girls interested in The Resistance, for example, which is an established card game that everyone plays, and it was like that episode of The Office where Michael and Jan host a dinner party and it’s like the worst thing ever.)  I had wandered my way down many lanes, desperate to play something – something original.  Something truly fascinating.  Something that would titillate sorry, bad word, stimulate every bone in my body with a lusty fire that would burn brightly like a humongous candle in my bones.

My friends, I think I’ve found it.

The game is called Quidditch.  Think of an exhaustive list of every great sport you’ve ever watched.  Ultimate Frisbee.  Dodgeball.  Flag Football.  Combine all three of these games together and make everyone run around on a broom.  Baby, say no more!  Welcome to the concoction that sparked a fire in my heart ever since the first time I had the gall to stick a PVC pipe between my legs, a madcap experiment of so many different varieties of raw beauty, athleticism, grace, and passion, that the ensuing chemical mix can fumigate even the most barnacled old traditionalist into playing – and loving – this sport.

So original, in fact, is the concept of Quidditch that it was later adapted into a fictional game played by teen wizards in the children’s book series Harry Potter.

The premise of Quidditch is simple.  There are three hoops on either side of the field.  Your object is to either throw or drive the quaffle (a fancy term for ball) into the opposing team’s hoop, without getting beaten by an opposing team’s bludger (a fancy term for ball), which are thrown at you by two mean-spirited, orc-like beaters who lurk at the gates of Gehenna searching for the next victim to club.  But wait, there’s more!  Call now, and you get a Snitch tossed in at minute 17, which is really just a hunky man sporting a yellow sock filled with a tennis ball tucked under the back of his shirt.  If you are lucky enough to be called a Seeker, you have the privilege of doing battle with this hunky man-child to take this yellow tail (haha – get it? Yellowtail?  Oh gosh, I’m on a roll today – a sushi roll!  Fudge yeah!) off, while he pushes you down and laughs at you, probably shouting something like “I AM GROOT” in the process.

Ok, not all Snitches are hunky men.  Some are hunky women!  Because Quidditch is also a co-ed sport, strictly enforced by the all-powerful Gender Rule, bow down, be-yotches.  The Gender Rule, praise be, has vanquished many a cowering team, including mine, the Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs, with its unyielding demand that at most 4 of one gender may start in a team of 6-7 players (4 Chasers, 2 Beaters, and 1 Seeker).  It is a tough, but fair ruler, but it also once cost us a victory at a game against the Glasgow Grim Reapers when we caught the Snitch (worth 30 points compared to a goal, worth 10 points) but had too many men on the field, nullifying our victory.  Nevertheless, it ensures that the sport remains healthily co-ed, so if you’re single and ready to mingle… it’s pretty romantic when you’re gasping for air with your crush at the bottom of a five-person scrum pile over a fumbled quaffle.  At least, that was how my friend Sam put it.

Quidditch is a sport that rewards patience, strategic planning, hard work, good genes, decent family structure, not being the middle child, etc.  You have to plan out your attack with precision.  For example, we run a play called “Ram Right.”  We take all our big guys, and we tell them “Go Right!” and they grunt like the hapless minions they are and bulldoze the way for our driver (the guy with the quaffle) to shed some tackles and bam-bam his way to the other team’s hoop.  You can also pass the quaffle between members of your team, if you are one of the 4 percent of men who are not anxious about channeling your primal masculinity through physical violence.  (Or if you just want to be more strategic.)  I play a traditional receiver position, so my role is to routinely beat coverage, catch the ball like a boss, and smash the ball in for the touchdown goal!  Who’s masculine now!  Huh?  That’s right Ben Song!  You were popular in middle school but now look who’s on top!

Speaking of Asian male rivals that I beat to submission, I had one of the proudest, mano-a-mano, classic America v. Britain, Chiang v. Mao, victories against Kevin Li, aka cocky Chinese boy #5, at the British Quidditch Cup.  First, I have to set the scene.  It is midnight.  It is actually 11 am.  Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs face off against Southampton Quidditch Club for a classic showdown waiting to happen.  Before I jog to my starting position, a wise veteran from our team shoots me a stark look.

“Better watch out for Kevin Li.  He’s good.  He’s fast.”

I know the type from my flag football days.  The shifty guy.  The guy who will slip by you like the Yakuza.  Dodgy like a C-rated noodle joint in Chinatown.  Steaming with sexy charisma, I fire back, “don’t worry Matt.  I got this.”

On opposite sides of the 100-meter pitch, the Edinburgh and Southampton Quidditch clubs line up, the ring of our infamous “Sportsball!” cheer still tolling in my ears.  The quaffle is placed halfway in between us, as well as three bludgers, dodgeball-style.  The scene is set, like an old Western.  Nothing but land and the enemy ‘boys ahead of us.

I lined up right in the center of our side of the pitch, directly under the quaffle.  My job was to sprint the 40m and get to the quaffle first, before… Oh my gosh.  Staring directly at me on the other side of the pitch, face red with mirth, was Kevin Li.

I challenge you to a Shaolin Showdown, was what he was telegraphing to me.

“READY!”  The referee calls to all of us.  But I can only look at Kevin Li.


I bolt into a sprint, my Firebolt clutched brazenly beneath my thighs, my cleats purposefully striking the ground, human chopsticks dancing with the dirt, hungry, hungry for the prize.  But I realized as soon as I got up that Kevin Li was over a third of the way to the quaffle.  He had cheated!  Gotten a head start before the whistle!  I later was able to confirm with one of my teammate subs this very fact.  It angered me when he got the quaffle and immediately maneuvered his way into a goal before we were even ready.  10-0 Southampton.  But in exchange for those 10 points, Kevin Li paid a dear, dear price – pissing me off.

Down 20-0, our team was in a pit (of misery.  Dilly Dilly!).  I was legitimately afraid I would lose to scat-cat Kevin Li and his triad of meaty henchmen.  But one moment in the game turned us around.  Our 90-pound vice captain, Sara, had the ball on a turnover we had caused.  Then the biggest player on Southampton’s team, a 250-pound beefcake, immediately ran her over, completely flattening her.  It looked so mismatched I flinched.  But get this – Sara maintained possession of quaffle, even as she was going to ground.  And, hopping right up, she flicked it to me in a daze, and I took off.  For me, that was moment that changed the momentum of the game.

After that mind-bending, impossible burst of charisma and adrenaline from our vice captain, I went into kill maim destroy mode.  In one drive, I splattered one Southampton kid onto the ground as I attacked the hoop, refusing to go down.  On another, I was getting tackled by a big boy, but managed to flick my left arm – the one containing the quaffle – just out of reach, putting enough spin on my throw to make a 5 meter shot at the goal while getting pinned and tackled down.  The ball sailed, caressed the air for a thin, gaping second, and took the plunge into the hoop.  That was just one goal out of the 7 goals our team scored since going down 20-0.

And then it was 70-30.

Kevin Li was on the bench, exhausted and watching his superior score a third goal while he could only remember how many times our team denied him the goal, including that one time I tackled him in the open field.

But then we received one of our biggest scares.  Up 40, even if Southampton caught the Snitch, they would still lose, being at a deficit of 30 points.  But two successful drives from our enemies made the score 70-50.  If they caught the snitch, they were going to win!  All our hard work would be lost!  Suddenly, I was sweating (I was already sweating.).  Was it to be that our efforts, our assists, our absolutely stellar play would be denied by one lucky stroke?

But no.  In comes Nic, our Seeker.  Driving hard on the Snitch in minute nineteen of the game (The Snitch comes on at minute seventeen), Nic dives for the legs.  A scrum ensues, and he emerges, yellow sock cleanly nicked from the rudder.  The referees huddle to confer.  But there is no controversy, and the whistle is blown.  Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs beats Southampton.  We’re the winners.  And I scored three goals.

Fame and glory.  I feel like I’m on a cloud.  A cloud of VICTORY SUCK IT KEVIN LIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!

The moments of your life you cherish are the simple joys.  Friends.  Winning.  Winning.  I had it all right then.  Quidditch has become the unexpected highlight of my semester.  And by the way, semesters to come.  Quidditch USA is alive and well… and recruiting, I hear.

The drama.  The limelight.  The pure passion and joy of victory.  The sweet sweet taste of scoring a goal while getting wrapped up and thrown to the ground.  The dirt beneath your cleats.  It’s all there.  It’s all there at a sport called Quidditch.


All photos courtesy of Claire Purslow Quidditch Photography and The British Quidditch Cup.

EDIT: A former version of this article misidentified our seeker and also spelled “quaffle” wrong.  It is “quaffle,” not “coffle.”  Duh. 

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