Quidditch Takes Off At Ringling College, Sarasota

Most college campuses thrive on the tradition of athletics. You see tradition in the camaraderie formed during tailgating and in the legions of body-painted fans cheering on a team from the stands. So, how can you elevate school spirit on a campus that lacks in the athletic department? If you're like the students of Ringling College of Art and Design you introduce a new sport -- Muggle Quidditch.

Quidditch is, of course, the game of choice for the characters of J.K Rowling's beloved Harry Potter series.

For those of you muggles (non-magic folk) not in the know, imagine a conglomeration of rugby, flag football, tag and dodgeball and you've got the recipe for any Potter fan's dream come true.

"I was an avid Harry Potter fan growing up," says photography sophomore and team President Danielle Garone. "So, just to see that I could play what I had seen in the movies and imagined in the books was awesome to me."

The setup? Goal posts -- three rings fashioned out of hula hoops and PVC pipes -- on opposite ends of the playing field. The objective? "Chasers" score points by throwing the "quaffle" (ball) through the hoop. "Keepers" defend the goals. "Beaters" attack the opposing team with "bludgers" (dodge balls) and must guard their team from getting hit. "Seekers" focus solely on catching "The Golden Snitch," typically a cross country runner evading capture from either team, because doing so results in an automatic victory.

The rules? There aren't many. Muggle Quidditch is a full-contact sport. Maintain one hand on your broom at all times. Some teams choose to straddle an actual broom designed specifically for the game. Ringling uses PVC pipes with caps on the end, according to Co-Captain Daniel Miller, a sophomore studying illustration.

Since its creation by Middlebury College graduate Xander Manshel in 2005, the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association has morphed from a fantastical pastime among friends to an international sensation. In 2010, under the direction of Middlebury College graduate Alex Benepe, the group became the International Quidditch Association and a registered nonprofit organization.
More than 1,000 teams have popped up around the world, including teams on the campuses of Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UCLA and Cambridge University, to name a few. Now, even high schools in the U.S., Italy, Australia and Asia are getting in on the action.

Potter fans aren't the only ones playing the game these days.

"To be honest I thought it was kind of ridiculous at first," says Captain Steven Wong, an illustration sophomore who also acts as coach and secretary.  "I had no idea it was going to be the intense sport that it is."

Advertising design junior Alexander Terry, a Dallas native who transferred to Ringling College in 2008 from Texas A & M University's architecture program, missed the spark of having a thriving intercollegiate athletics team on campus.
"I felt there was a lack of tradition, but mainly I missed the fun that was brought about by having a Division 1 football team," he says.

Then he heard of sisters Aimee and Kristen Howarth back at Texas A & M and their endeavor to start a Quidditch team. Intrigued with the idea, Terry shelled out money for equipment at Home Depot and convinced his roommate to gather friends for a trial game. Participation was uneven at first.

"Our first year, it was a bunch of un-athletic kids running around thinking we were cool," Terry says.

Many games only started after Terry dragged his friends out to play. When his sophomore year began, he started to wonder whether he should bother continuing to play.

That was until Garone, an incoming freshman, approached Terry at lunch three days into the new school year expressing her eagerness to join the team. Her enthusiasm spread quickly, according to team treasurer Sara Galvao, who lived on Garone's floor in Ann & Alfred Goldstein Hall during freshman year.

"Danielle became [team] president a week into school," says graphic design sophomore Galvao. "She grabbed people to join. I think two-thirds of our floor was on the team that year."

Two hundred signatures were collected at the team's booth on Club Day and the birth of the Ringling College Quidditch team was celebrated the following weekend with a giant inaugural game.

"We played in a drainage ditch during a torrential downpour," Garone says. "It was a pool, quite literally, and we had an absolute blast."

Balancing Act On, Off The Field

While having fun is an important aspect of the sport, keeping it going requires a considerable amount of effort on top of academic priorities, especially for the team's president.

"When all six of your teachers give you a 25-hour project to finish in a week you don't have a lot of time to spare -- sometimes you have negative time," she says.

The demands of Ringling's attendance policy and course work result in the withdrawal of some players every season, but maintaining an athletic outlet is worth it for those who can manage it all.

"Somedays when I'm stressed, I'll go out and knock some people over with a bludger or make a sweet goal and it makes everything OK," Garone says.

Like any team, however, fundraising is always a struggle. When team members began raising money for the 2010 World Cup held at DeWitt Clinton Park in New York City, they began to realize just how time-consuming the task could be.

"I don't know if [the team] understood the complexity of raising $13,000 in a semester," Garone recalls. "I've been a Girl Scout and a volunteer my entire life, so I knew the necessity of time management and kicking peoples' butts to get them moving."

Hundreds of T-shirts were printed thanks to multiple all-nighters. They sold Harry Potter-related items -- like Butterbeer, a delicious cream soda flavored concoction featured in the Harry Potter books, and waffles they dubbed "Qwaffles."

Overall, the team raised $8,000 for the two-day event. The school loaned them the remainder of the funds, which they've nearly paid back, according to Terry.

Learning As They Fly

Handling the business side has given team members experiences and skills they didn't expect to encounter at a private art college.

Terry was invited by Benepe to join the International Quidditch Association board of directors in 2009 as the regional director for the Southeast USA. More recently, Terry's role has been expanded to run an in-house team of seven volunteers from around the country as the chief of marketing and strategic development officer.

"Learning more about the business side of things -- establishing a nonprofit, signing contracts, networking with Fortune 500 companies -- it's defined me as a student leader and in some sense it's defined my art," Terry explains. "Quidditch made that all possible."

The organization dedicates itself to a string of worthy causes -- gender equality in athletics, promoting children's literacy and combating the rising obesity rates among youth. At the 2010 World Cup, the organization announced its donation of $4,667 and more than 9,000 books to Book Aid International in its first annual book drive.

Despite the Harry Potter phenomenon coming to an end with the release of the final film in July, Terry is confident the sport will continue to thrive.

"I think because we're all college kids starting this, people feel like they're right in the thick of it," he says. "It's not like they're joining an ultimate frisbee club; they were at the genesis of Quidditch."

While there is some speculation about how the sport handles the intellectual property of J.K. Rowling and Time Warner, Terry says, for now, the company is on their side.

"Time Warner is pretty sympathetic to our cause," he says, "and when you have this many college students fighting for a cause you can't shut that down."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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