Two decades after the publication of J.K. Rowling’s first book in the “Harry Potter” series, the real-life Muggle version of the magical sport is still drawing in literary devotees and sports enthusiasts alike.
The fast-paced, co-ed game of quidditch, which will be on display during Baylor University’s home tournament Saturday, may look obscure as players run with sticks between their legs imitating the wizarding game performed on flying brooms. But players say the full-contact toughness of the sport is drawing spectators who may have never embarked into the mystical world created by the British author in a series that literary experts rank as one for the ages.
The fourth-annual Brooms on the Brazos tournament returns Saturday morning as Baylor faces 11 other teams, including groups from Texas State University, the University of Texas at Austin and Stephen F. Austin State University. The Baylor Quidditch Association organizes the tournament.
Playing quidditch lets sophomore Savannah Senger simultaneously indulge her nerdy and athletic sides.
“I was aware that people played quidditch but I didn’t know it was so big in college until I actually joined college,” said Senger, who started playing as a freshman.
She grew up playing basketball and volleyball and started looking into intramural and club sports when she enrolled at Baylor.
“It fulfilled my nerdy passion and my athletic passion. I knew I would find people who were like me that I could get along with,” she said. “I like being tough and having a little bit more freedom in how I rough people up.”
Most athletic opportunities for women in college don’t encourage the full-contact roughness encouraged in a sport like football, Senger said. Quidditch does.
“Sometimes people think of women as not as tough as guys when in reality we are,” she said.
Bravery, loyalty, friendship and the importance of not judging someone are a few of the important lessons taught throughout the world Rowling created, Senger said.
Baylor English professor Greg Garrett said he understands the appeal of the literary game of quidditch portrayed in Rowling’s series, and he is intrigued by the continued interest among college students throughout the country.
“It would be lovely to live in a world where we had flying brooms,” Garrett said. “I’m intrigued continuously by the fact Baylor students are drawn to this. I’ve seen quidditch players come to class bruised and battered. It’s a tough game.”
People love the idea that, even without flying brooms, they will bleed and sweat to become champions, he said. It’s not a far cry from the soldier games he played in the yard after watching war movies growing up, he said.
Garrett teaches a “Harry Potter” class each spring that always has more interested students than available seats. He also released a book in 2011 titled “One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter,” and it was named a Best Theological Book by the Association of Theological Booksellers.
He continues to believe the love for “Harry Potter” only shows signs of growing, even 20 years after its initial release.
The story is more than a wizard’s journey. It unfolds powerful and universal themes that continue to resonate in people’s lives, he said.
Even with the series’ persistent popularity, some quidditch devotees are drawn to the sport independent of its literary origins.
Freshman Kathleen Klinzing borrowed a stick during a Baylor Quidditch Association practice Tuesday night. Running through mud puddles under dim light, Klinzing rushed toward coach Reed Marchman before lodging the ball, one of a few types used in the game, toward another player, who went for a shot.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, freshman Tisa Berry ran another drill to practice wrestling the ball from other players. Berry said she is a member of the Baylor Quidditch Association but plans to wait until next semester to try out for the team.
“I’m very interested in ‘Harry Potter’ and was very excited to find we have a nationally-ranked quidditch team,” she said. “I just read ‘Harry Potter’ in June because I wasn’t allowed to because my parents were like the Bible, yeah, that whole thing. I just really like ‘Harry Potter’ and I like the community I’ve found around it. … J.K. Rowling managed to create a whole world from her brain.”
The game of quidditch is more intense than many realize, she said.
“You get tackled. We’ve had people get black eyes. I’ve gotten bruises,” Berry said.
Marchman, who is coaching the team for the second year in a row, had played on the team for four years before that, he said.
“I just love kind of being that influence now, training these guys, watching them grow into the people they are now,” he said.
He remembers his first practice.
“I had a friend who played and she was super nerdy,” Marchman said. “She was like, ‘Reed you should play quidditch.’ I said no because I thought it was the funniest, dumbest thing I’d ever heard of.”
Having played football for nine years, once he tried quidditch and found out the sport was full contact, he decided he could get into it.
“Ever since then, I stepped on the field, played for five minutes, and said, ‘I’m going to play this for as long as I possibly can,’ ” he said.
Several players this year have not read the “Harry Potter” series or seen the movies, he said. Many are just drawn to the sport.
“The fact that we play with girls and guys on the same field is something that’s way different than anything you see in traditional sports,” he said.
Marchman said the association had to reduce the number of teams playing in the Brooms on the Brazos tournament because of a venue change. The tournament was originally scheduled to have 16 teams, and now a few are on a waiting list in hopes another team drops out, he said.
There weren’t many spectators in first two years of the tournament, but the crowd started to grow last year, he said.
“People are coming that don’t have any connection to the players,” he said. “It’s getting a little bigger every time.”
Marchman said the teams hope to see a crowd out to watch the games. Viewing is free, and spectators are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on.
Junior James Carey said Baylor will face two teams that finished in the top two spots in nationals last year.
“The Southwest Region, which is mostly in Texas, is the best region of quidditch in the U.S.,” he said. “We are constantly facing the top competition.”