Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Muggle Quidditch: Growing in Popularity

"Weasley cannot save a thing, he cannot block a single ring, that's why Slytherins all sing, Weasley is our king."

This is the boisterous chant of the Slytherin team, J.K Rowling's depiction of the bully-based squadron whose primary goal in the Harry Potter series is to rub Gryffindor's noses into the ground every conceivable moment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Breaking it down for those who have not bothered with the collection, the chant is derived from what escalates during the fictitious Quidditch, the school's seasonal sporting event, where flying brooms are mandatory and one specific player, the Seeker, must grab a flittery-winged small golden ball to win the match.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Rowling should be thrilled: Quidditch has now become an actual sport. Brooms and snitches don't elevate from the ground, but that doesn't stop these imaginable Potter fanatics from attempting to live out their storybook glory.

As the fan base strengthened in numbers over the past decade, so did the potential of establishing the earthbound variation of Muggle Quidditch.

"A lot of people don't realize is there's this whole underground scene," said Jennie Steinberg, a resident of Los Angeles, on the phone. A student shooting for her masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at CSU Northridge, interested in Harry Potter, wanting to play a fake sport?

Just as other groups associate their flockings with the addition of '-head' onto a word that's spoken most and widely known - indeed, Mr. Potter has captured the young spirited hearts of every country, establishing themselves as Potterheads.

"If you're a Potterhead, you get the same response when bringing up Harry Potter in non-Harry Potter circles, 'Oh yeah, I read book one and it was okay, and I've seen some of the movies and they're alright,'" said 25-year-old Steinberg. "That used to be my response too."

While the series first debuted in 1997 and now up to date has sold over hundreds of millions of Rowling's seven books combined, Steinberg didn't start reading them till three-and-a-half years ago. "When I first started dating my boyfriend, he told me that I needed to read them," said Steinberg. "If I wasn't going to do it on my own, he was going to read them to me."

Steinberg was hooked: for the first six months or so of the relationship, her boyfriend read the books aloud to each other every night. When the final installment: HP and the Deathly Hallows came out, Steinberg joined in, and they both read the chapters.

Setting out to find others who enjoy the same, Steinberg began attending 'Wizard Rock' concerts, a new genre of music dedicated to Potter. " They
did an amazing job of drawing from not only the characters and the humor, but also the emotions and the wonderful lessons," she said. "That is what I think brings me back to the books."

From The Remus Lupins to the Whomping Willows, Steinberg started attending more shows on the quest to seek out others such as herself. "I was frustrated with my lack of Potterhead friends," she declared.

After having spent a night dining with six other fans post concert, Steinberg kept in contact with them online. A couple weeks later, she read her new friends had requested a game of Muggle Quidditch. Jennie jumped on the prospect, messaging them and insisting that they invite her.

Told to 'Bring Your Own Broom' and chip in a few dollars for a BBQ, Steinberg showed up at a house with a broom in hand. "A girl ran out asking if I was there for Quidditch," Steinberg said. "I joked, 'Nope! I'm here to clean your house.'"

Walking into the backyard, she noticed the set-up of mid-air hoops, which were really just hula hoops duct-taped to PVC pipe held up by sand in buckets. A pair of three hoops sat on each end of the yard, and people were already there scrimmaging. Using a volleyball as a Quaffle, they were thrown into the opposing side's hoops for points.

Sometimes the adaptions are interesting. "The snitch can be a moving person, or a remote control car and helicopter," Steinberg said. With attempts at Quidditch as a water polo sport and rigging up a harness to fly, Potterheads always envision new creative ideas.

Steinberg was ready to play. Chosen as a beater, her job was to throw dodgeballs at the chasers, who are attempting to throw the volleyballs into the goals. "It was very high intensity," she recalled. "There is so much going on in the game, it was really chaotic and fun."

Many U.S. universities are now involved in a Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, and several attended the 2008 Quidditch World Cup, as also the sport is growing recognition in youth camps worldwide. It even prompted Greg Gumbel to go do a play-by-play of a Quidditch tournament for CBS News a year ago; that is when the Muggles of the real world finally learned of Quidditch.

There won't be any spells flying around, either. "I may have tried to use the summoning spell to steal the bludger," Steinberg said. "Accio!"