Broomstick riding Red Deer quidditch player Ryan Tebb (left) tries to get the snitch — which is a tennis ball hanging from the back of Jillian Staniec's yellow shorts — as Brian Gallaway intervenes.

Quidditch players have tons of fun

Playing a wizards’ sport in the Muggle world isn’t straightforward or easy — but it’s tons of fun, say members of Central Alberta Quidditch.

Playing a wizards’ sport in the Muggle world isn’t straightforward or easy — but it’s tons of fun, say members of Central Alberta Quidditch.

A couple of obvious differences emerge when comparing the magical quidditch matches, described in the Harry Potters books by J.K. Rowling, to the down-to-earth weekly drop-in sessions held by Central Alberta Quitdditch at the Collicutt Centre.

For one thing, the broomsticks positioned between players’ legs in Red Deer can’t rocket off into the air, as they do at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

For another, the snitch — a golden ball with wings that’s caught to end games in the Potter books — is actually a human being in the sessions held at the Collicutt Centre.

Make that a human wearing gold-coloured shorts with a tennis ball hanging from her back waistband.

But just like her magical counterpart, the snitch played by Jillian Staniec, is elusive. She weaves around the quidditch pitch to avoid having her tennis ball pulled off — for all Harry Potter devotees know that catching the snitch would mean a team victory.

Staniec, who is a “huge” Harry Potter fan and founder of Central Alberta Quidditch, isn’t thrown by the disadvantages of playing the sport in a Muggle (non-magical) place like Red Deer.

While players can’t fly, “you’d be surprised what you can do when you run really hard and jump really high,” said the 32-year-old City of Red Deer archivist, with a chuckle.

Muggle quidditch was developed in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont and has largely taken off with the university crowd.

Just like in the fictional wizards’ sport, there are seven players to a team: two beaters who lob beaters (dodge balls) at opponents, three chasers, who pass the quaffles (volleyballs) and try tossing them through three hoops at either end of the pitch to score), a keeper who protects the hoops, and a seeker, who attempts to catch the snitch.

Staniec, who first saw the game played at a Harry Potter convention in Florida a few years ago, is now conventions manager for the International Quidditch Association, as well as organizer of the Central Alberta group.

She said she enjoys both the physical demands and the absurdities of the sport.

Her boyfriend, Brian Gallaway, a computer programmer, has been a member of the local quidditch group since it was formed last August.

Gallaway said he likes that Rowling invented a game “that it doesn’t make sense . . . and yet people have managed to turn it into a real sport,” complete with referees and goal judges.

While Muggle quidditch hasn’t made it to the Olympics, it’s played competitively by teams from across the world. International quidditch tournaments are slated for North Myrtle Beach, S. C. in April, and Burnaby, B.C. in July.

Staniec would love to get enough people joining Central Alberta Quidditch to have a well-trained local team that could compete against Edmonton and Calgary teams. A provincial tournament is set for Saturday, March 29, at the Red Deer Titans Rugby Club, pending reasonable weather.

Muggle quidditch has been called a cross between rugby, dodgeball, tag, wrestling, and lacrosse. Because only the players’ non-broomstick holding hand is available to catch and toss balls, it’s also similar to water polo. The broomstick is one reason, “you can never take yourself too seriously,” said Gallaway. with a laugh.

Staniec agreed “You need a good sense of fun” to play, but it also helps to have an athletic background, since quidditch requires “fierce determination,” speed, strategy, and stamina. In early versions of the game, snitches could literally be chased across town. Rules were later put into place to ensure snitches didn’t disappear from pitches.

“Some of them used to call in from home,” said Staniec. “They’d text pictures of themselves making a sandwich!”

Red Deer College nursing student Ryan Tebbs turned up at the last drop-in session because he was looking for an interesting activity to try and quidditch peaked his curiosity.

Daniel Hendrickson, age 31, already plays alternative frisbee, so he thought why not try another wacky sport? “They’re nice people and it’s fun.”

For more information, please visit Drop-in sessions are at Collicutt Centre on Tuesdays from 9:15 to 10 p.m.

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