Harry Potter introduced us to the fictional, magical sport of Quidditch, where teams ride on brooms trying to catch - and score points - with flying objects. Post-Potter, Quidditch is taking on a life of its own in the non-magical world of college sports. Arizona Public Radio's Justin Regan reports on Northern Arizona University's Quidditch team, The Narwhal's, and their hopes for Quidditch World Cup glory.
Drenching rain hasn't canceled today's Quidditch practice for the NAU Narwhals. Fourteen players run around on an Astro Turf practice field. Josh Taber is one of them. A former football player and wrestler, Taber says he was drawn to Quidditch because it had a more positive feel. "I joined because one of the founders of NAU's Quidditch team was one of my friends", Taber says. "He told me to show up and I did first as a joke. And I stuck around because it was a lot of fun, something I could get passionate about."
Taber is also a certified referee with the International Quidditch Association. It was founded in 2007 shortly after the first intercollegiate Quidditch Tournament in Middlebury, Vermont. There are now more than 1,000 recognized teams from more than a dozen countries. NAU player Josh Taber says ref certification was no joke. "I had to read the rule book and it was like 100 long or so. There are lots of fine details", Taber says. "And then, one of the members of the ref certification teams comes in and hands you a test and it's like 15 pages long."
Quidditch players take the game very seriously. They've learned to play it without using magical powers. Instead of riding on brooms, they run with them. Instead of chasing after a flying "snitch", they go after a person holding a tennis ball inside a sock. It has evolved from fiction, into a real and very competitive college sport.
Bridget Peterson founded NAU's team in 2010. She says, "it just amazes me thinking back in the beginning we were wearing capes and we had no idea what we were doing in terms of practices and drills. We'd just kind of get out there and run around, laugh and have fun."
Peterson says world about the team spread quickly through campus. And people with competitive sports backgrounds began joining. Over the last 3 years, The Narwhals have become highly competitive and have even developed an intense rivalry with Arizona State University's Quidditch team. And they've attracted a large fan-base.
Frank Woodford works for NAU's club sports program. He says, "in regards to students, Quidditch is our second biggest club on campus behind hockey." Woodford says he's watched Quidditch grow into one of the most popular sports on campus. "it's one of our biggest and most attractive club sports and a lot of that simply is because of how hard they work", Woodford says.
That hard work has paid off this season for The Narwhals. This weekend, they'll play in the Western Regional Quidditch Tournament in Roseville, California. If they place in the top 6, they'll advance to the Quidditch World Cup in Florida where they could win it all.
Player Robert Valenzuela says going to regionals legitimizes Quidditch as a real sport instead of just a fictional one. "It used to be you would sign up and any team that could afford to go could go", Valenzuela says. "And this time around you have to qualify to go, that's a real advantage. We'll see some of the best teams in the United States".
This weekend, The Narwhals will be one of them.