On a crisp Thursday afternoon, players of the University of Toronto Centaurs trickled onto the Back Campus Fields, shrugging off their backpacks and lacing up their sneakers. One had a bag of volleyballs and dodgeballs slung over their shoulder; another carried metre-long plastic sticks onto the pitch. Finally, two lugged in a couple of hoops on stands, placing three on either end of the field. Any bystander would be at a loss if asked what sport they were watching.
This game, however, is world-renowned through J. K. Rowling’s books and their movie adaptations — if a little fringe in its playership. If you haven’t guessed, the Centaurs are U of T’s quidditch team. Playing in the Quidditch Canada League, which includes many university and club teams from coast to coast, the Centaurs represent only one team in a vibrant and established sport that is often mistaken for a novelty pastime. Co-captains Chloe Cheng and Breanne Bornstein sat down with The Varsity before practice to explain how quidditch has adapted from the magical game to be a full-contact, gender-inclusive, competitive athletic pursuit.
Both captains were initially attracted to the sport through their passion for the ‘Potterverse’: “I always loved Harry Potter and I wanted to try it out, and here I am four years later,” said Bornstein. Cheng agreed: “I loved Harry Potter and have always been pretty athletic.”
However, they explained that the game that they admired in the pages of Potter has had to be modified to suit the capabilities of us mere muggles.
Traditionally, Rowling’s game involves each team on broomsticks, flying around the field to score points. Most of the balls are magical as well, having their own charms that allow them to move by themselves, for their own separate motivations.
While we may not be able to fly, the positions of muggle quidditch stay true to the spirit of the game: “Chasers are kind of the offensive, goal-scoring position. We run around with the quaffle, which is a deflated volleyball, and we try to score through one of the three hoops. Each hoop is worth 10 points,” explained Cheng. Like the fictional game, there is also a keeper, which is a chaser with special defensive privileges.
Bornstein is a beater: “I guess many people would call it the ‘dodgeball position.’ The goal is to have both bludgers — dodgeballs — so that you can use them to beat the other players.” And then there is the ever-important seeker, the player who chases the golden snitch. This game-ending, 30-point ‘ball’ differs a little from the fictional golden orb in that it is instead a yellow-clad runner who is unaffiliated with either team, and has a sock hanging out of their pants for the seekers to grab. While navigating the field and the various different balls in play, everyone is running with a ‘broomstick’ between their legs.
Canada’s first quidditch team was founded at McGill University in 2008, and the sport’s popularity among Harry Potter fans, like Cheng, grew quickly. In a mere six years, the Quidditch Canada League came to be as the “national governing body for the sport of quidditch in Canada,” fostering enthusiasm for quidditch from coast to coast, and facilitating not only university clubs but also youth oriented recreational ones. Furthermore, among other iterations, low- or no-contact and wheelchair-accessible versions of the game have made the sport more inclusive.
Complete inclusivity can be hard to find in sport, where gender and disability segregations are commonplace, and lead to routine exclusion for some potential athletes. “What’s really cool is the sport is super gender-inclusive,” said Bornstein. “You must have, maximum, four people of the same gender on the pitch at the same time,” said Cheng. “It includes nonbinary, it includes people who don’t identify as a gender,” Bornstein added.
“In any other sport, you’re either on the male team or female team. You’re on this team no matter what you look like, where you’re from, or how you identify.”
Interested? Cheng and Bornstein encourage athletic Potterheads to try out in the fall or winter: anyone can try out at any level of skill and knowledge — “we don’t expect you to know the rules!”