Ever since I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the age of six, I’ve dreamed of zooming around on a broom in front of thousands of spectators. But while the child dreamer in me could imagine playing Harry’s favorite sport, the realist knew that Quidditch was a game played only in J.K. Rowling’s magical world. Muggles — those of us without magic skills — would never have a chance to join in a game.
Upon arriving at Yale, I learned otherwise.
Muggle Quidditch was founded in 2003 at Middlebury but did not come to Yale until 2009. Only a year later, the Yale team has just completed its first World Cup in New York City. Though they were ranked 22nd out of 46 teams, Yale’s Quidditch enthusiasts defied all expectations and made it to the top 16.
My first lesson comes just a few days after the World Cup, and I feel butterflies in my stomach as I contemplate learning how to play the sport and potentially embarrassing myself in front of a Quidditch expert. Jason Perlman ’11 is one of the founding members of Yale’s team, but luckily, he is a very patient and encouraging teacher. He points out that no one on the team had any prior experience with the sport before joining; indeed, no one goes to college on a Quidditch scholarship. So I have nothing to fear.
The rules Perlman describes are adapted from those in the Harry Potter series, changed to accommodate Muggles. Since most of us can’t fly, Muggle Quidditch keeps the broom component but gets rid of the levitation — players must run with brooms between their legs at all times during the game.
There are four positions: chaser, keeper, beater and seeker. Beaters lob bludgers (dodgeballs) at the other players, who have to drop whatever they are carrying if hit. Chasers run with the quaffle (a deflated volleyball) and attempt to score goals. A keeper carefully guards the goalposts. And last but not least, the seeker — played by Harry in the books — spends the entire game chasing after the golden snitch, which if caught, ends the game. In Harry Potter’s version of Quidditch, seekers have to be very astute and observant as they chase after this golden ball with delicate wings. In Muggle Quidditch, however, seekers just need to be fast enough to keep up with a person dressed in gold with a tennis ball hanging in a sock from his or her back pocket.
To explain the hybrid sport in Muggle terms, “there’s a rugby-basketball part…there’s a dodgeball part…and then there’s a tag part,” Perlman says. We begin our lesson with the rugby-basketball part: chasing. I gaze down at the broom grasped firmly between my knees and hold the slightly deflated volleyball in one unsteady hand. Sweeping my eyes to the left, I can see the three goalposts, a tall one in the center flanked by two smaller ones. I take a deep breath, walk to the other end of the field, and stand my ground. The game begins, and I rush toward the goalposts and try to catapult the quaffle through one of them, all the while attempting to thwart Perlman’s height advantage. My stomach feels as if it is twisting around inside of me as I miss the goal by a pitifully wide margin.
Disappointed but not deterred, I return to my position across the field, ready to score the goal I have been preparing for since the first grade. I swiftly waddle toward the goalpost, fervently clutching my broom with my left hand and raising the quaffle over my head with my right. This time, I chuck the quaffle and watch it sail smoothly through the goal on the right.
We then move on to the dodgeball part: beating. Perlman hands me a red bludger, hoists his broom between his legs and tells me to guard the goalposts. I cock my arm back, poised to hurl the dodgeball at him if he gets too close. He comes running toward me, and I instinctively toss the bludger, missing my target. I chase after my red ball, and Perlman scores while my back is turned. We reset ourselves, and he runs at me a second time and a third time, never failing to evade my bludger and put the quaffle through the hoop.
By this point in my Quidditch tutorial, it is nearly dark outside. Perlman has already told me that we will not be covering the seeker’s chase in our lesson because unfortunately we don’t have a snitch with us this evening. Like many Harry fans, I’ve always wanted to play the seeker. And so, as our lesson nears its final moments and I prepare to help Perlman carry the equipment back to the captain’s suite, I take one more step toward keeping my childhood dream alive. I ask: “How can I join the team?”