The 33 varsity teams, 35 club sports and more than 30 intramural sports Yale offers are just for Muggles.
But this past fall, Marty Keil ’12 brought some magic to campus by launching Yale’s first Quidditch team to compete against other colleges in the popular sport from the Harry Potter books. With a core team of more than 15 students — and a Facebook group that boasts 241 members — Keil says he has plenty of interest to keep the snitch in the air. Although the team struggled in competitions at the beginning of the year, it had a big win over Harvard in November — what Keil called the “highlight of the season” — and is now seeking club or intramural status, he said.
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“A lot of people love Harry Potter,” Bahij Chancey ’13, a Yale Quidditch member, said. “While reading, you imagine you’re flying. There’s a magic to the game that we’re trying to re-capture.”
The college Quidditch phenomenon began at Middlebury in the fall of 2005, when Xander Manshel, then a freshman, came up with the idea one afternoon while playing Bocce ball, according to Alex Benepe, Manshel’s friend at Middlebury and the commissioner of the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association. While Benepe was initially skeptical, he said Manshel “adapted [Quidditch] really well.”
Although students cannot use their broomsticks to fly, according to Benepe, Manshel’s version still contains certain elements of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s version.
Each team has three chasers, two beaters, a keeper and a seeker. The chasers — offensive players whose position Benepe described as a cross between rugby and basketball — score 10 points each time they throw a kickball into one of three hoops that the opposing team’s keeper protects. The two beaters play a form of dodgeball, trying to hit the chasers with volleyballs, he said. According to the Intercollegiate Quidditch Rules and Guidebook, the snitch is a person with a tennis ball stuffed in a sock that hangs from his or her shorts, and the seekers from each team try to run down the snitch and capture the sock, scoring 50 points for their team and ending the game if they succeed in doing so. The team with the most points at the end wins.
According to Benepe, the Middlebury phenomenon took flight with the Quidditch World Cup in 2007 against Vassar when USA Today covered the college sensation.
“I knew it was going to be something great,” Benepe said, adding, “It was a novelty and didn’t take itself too seriously.”
At Yale, Jessica Bolhack ’11, an original and former member of Yale Quidditch, said Yale’s involvement in the sport began in the Freshman Olympics in the spring of 2008, when Quidditch was one of the events.
“It evolved into a ridiculous rugby game,” Bolhack recalled. “Varsity football players were literally just tackling each other. The broom became such a nuisance that students just held it to the side with one hand.”
Yet after the success of the initial match, Bolhack said it was hard to mobilize more support due to a lack of funding and students’ busy schedules.
Keil said he was eager to revive the sport, prompting him to create the team, which pays for its equipment and travel completely out of pocket.
After viewing some “ridiculous” videos of college Quidditch at other colleges in the fall, Keil said he discovered the Yale Quidditch group on Facebook, at which point he sent a message to all the members to come to a meeting in early October.
Keil said he was surprised by the turnout at the meeting, which drew 25 students, 15 of whom were freshmen.
Two very interested freshmen, Chancey and Molly Hensley-Clancy ’13, helped the Bulldogs to get the snitch rolling.
Although Keil said the team practiced every Sunday on Cross Campus following the meeting, in preparation for the Quidditch World Cup at Middlebury in late October,
due to illness and a lack of transportation, the team never made it to the competition.
But the Yalies did make it to the Veteran’s Cup in mid-November at UMass Amherst, when the Bulldogs competed against UMass Amherst and Emerson College. Although Yale lost both of its games, Keil said the10-point loss to UMass Amherst was very close by Quidditch scoring. The competition against Emerson, though, was another story.
“Emerson is a crazy team with a hired coach and as much funding as their football team,” Keil said. “They sent two kids to the hospital over the course of the tournament. We got killed, but we were lucky to be alive.”
In the following weeks, the Elis beat Harvard 50–0 on Nov. 20, in a match played on Cross Campus the day before The Game.
Looking ahead to the spring, Keil said his primary goals for Yale Quidditch include reaching club or intramural status and increasing membership. He also said he hopes to host a tournament or an Ivy scrimmage at Yale. The team is currently on break during the winter season, with the hope of returning to Cross Campus when the weather warms, he said.
According to its Web site, the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association currently has 226 member schools, including fellow Ivies Harvard, Cornell and Brown.
“I think it’s excellent [that Yale has a team],” Benepe said. “Ivy athletic teams I know are a big driver for inter-collegiate competitions and help to promote the sport.”