Brooms Up: Quidditch at UNC Charlotte

A game inspired by Harry Potter books takes off
Debadeep Sen
UNC Charlotte’s coed Quidditch team launched in 2012 and hosts a competition on October 18.

“How do you fly?”

That’s the most common question Allie Nelson hears in her role as president and co-captain of UNC Charlotte’s Quidditch club.

“No one asks how we play without flying,” she says. “But it’s always, ‘How do you fly?’”

Quidditch began as a game played by fictional characters in the Harry Potter books. Fans of the student wizard and his pals at Hogwarts adapted the sport to real-world fields (without flying, unfortunately).  Over the past nine years, it has evolved into a popular campus sport. During the early years, Potter culture ruled: Players wore capes; spectators waved wands. By 2011, the Quidditch World Cup took the game to a new level: More than 2,000 players competed, and 96 teams representing five countries participated.

Quidditch got serious.

A year later, UNC Charlotte started a team. Now that team is preparing to host the Quidditch Gold Rush Cup II on October 18, inviting 12 teams to compete. In the meantime, Nelson and her pals are out to attract new players and build fan support.

Sporting a big smile and a streak of blue hair, Nelson returned to the campus fields in August with shorts emblazoned “HIT IT OR QUIDDITCH.” Counting down to play, she yelled: “1-2-3, brooms up!” as if she had waited all summer to kick off a game. “[It’s] consumed my whole life,” says the junior, who began playing as a freshman. “I fell in love with the sport from the get-go. And it’s a conversation piece. Who doesn’t want to tell someone that they play Quidditch?”

“I’ve been hit in the face with a broom twice, but I only bled once.”

Imagine rugby and dodgeball combined to create a hybrid sport that is both bookish and violent. That’s Quidditch. Potter fans will recognize the positions. Chasers score points by throwing the quaffle (a slightly deflated volleyball) through the opponents’ goals; beaters take out chasers temporarily with a well-aimed bludger (a slightly deflated dodgeball); a keeper defends the goal; and a seeker ends the game by catching the snitch. A human snitch. To further complicate things, players compete on brooms (or typically, PVC pipe)—and hence, one-handed.

Anyone who thinks this sounds adorably nerdy should talk to Alex Yanez, a former soccer player and ROTC cadet who played his first season of Quidditch last year with Charlotte. “The first practice, I learned the hard way it is a lot more athletic than I thought it’d be,” says Yanez, who received two concussions playing Quidditch. “There was that shock factor going into it.”

Players talk about the game’s violence with an almost disturbing calm. “I’ve been hit in the face with a broom twice, but I only bled once,” Nelson says. “The worst thing I’ve seen is two leg bones breaking clean. I thought I heard PVC breaking, but no. It was bone.”

About half the UNC Charlotte Quidditch team members had never played an organized sport. A come-as-you-are attitude is integral to the coed game. The rules allow players to define their own genders, while also ensuring that one gender never dominates the field. “I love it because people who are trans[gender] or may not identify as strictly male/female may not have an opportunity in sports,” Nelson says. “Quidditch has made very intentional efforts to be gender-inclusive.”

The one trait that most players share is a passion for a sport that was born in a fantasy novel. “People have varying backgrounds, but we’re all pretty nerdy,” Nelson says. “Buff nerds who tackle.” 

Categories: Quick Reads, The Buzz