Their eyes lock on the opposing players on the other side of the pitch. Their muscles tighten with anticipation. This is the moment they have been training for over the past month. This is what the hour-plus practices each Wednesday on the Physics lawn were all about.
The time is now.
“Stony Brook Bolts, are you ready?” bellows the commissioner from inside the pitch.
The team of seven impatiently waits for the phrase that will start the game designed to test all of their endurance, all of their skill. The game that will have all of their muscles burning and tired.
“The snitch is loose! Brooms up!”
The game has started. The points go up and up until the snitch is caught. Those are the rules. There is no time limit. Everyone must play as hard as they can for as long as they can.
This is quidditch, and these are the Stony Brook Bolts.
Harry Potter’s magical game of broomsticks, bludgers, quaffles and the golden snitch has come to life this semester at Stony Brook University. The rest of the nation – and the world – seems to be under the same spell
“If you don’t understand it, you can’t accept it,” said Daniel Ahmadizadeh, the freshman biology major who got the quidditch club off the ground this semester.
Ground quidditch is described by some as a combination of many different sports, including dodgeball, volleyball and rugby.
After participating with his varsity basketball and other sports teams in a quidditch game while he was going to the Bronx High School of Science, Ahmadizadeh was hooked. Through a driving motivation to stay active on campus and because of his skill in creating Facebook groups, Ahmadizadeh was able to garner enough interest from the student body to make the quidditch team a reality.
“I was the president of my class in high school, and I did a lot of stuff by creating Facebook groups,” said Ahmadizadeh. “I started the Stony Brook Quidditch team to see if there was any interest, and it turned out that there was so I said ‘Let’s make this Facebook page an actual group.’”
Then Ahmadizadeh met Kevin Nee, a freshman computer science major from West Babylon, on a train ride over the summer, and they started talking about quidditch. Pretty soon Nee, who is one of the largest players on the team next to Ahmadizadeh, was almost as heavily involved in the creation of the club quidditch team on campus as Ahmadizadeh was.
There are a variety of names for the game of quidditch, the most common of which being “muggle quidditch” or “ground quidditch.” According to the International Quidditch Association’s (IQA) website, the sport was started by Xander Manshel in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont. The first game was between Middlebury and Vassar College on Nov. 11, 2005, after which the IQA was created.
Since then, muggle quidditch has become a national sensation with more than a thousand teams from 13 countries. In just the Northeast, there are 29 official teams – not including the 34 other teams that are in the process of becoming an official team.
And that’s just in the United States.
There are quidditch teams spanning the globe from high schools and colleges in Australia and New Zealand to community leagues in Europe and Asia.
The sport is taking over the world.
“The bottom line is: you have to give it a shot,” said Ahmadizadeh, the 19-year-old redhead.
Quidditch play goes as such:
The game is played on an oval playing field called the pitch. Each team has seven players on the field – two of whom must be of a different gender than the other players. They play while running around on official quidditch broomsticks. One hand must remain on the broomstick at all times.
Each team has two beaters who are the defensive players and three Chasers who are on the offensive. There is one keeper and one seeker – Harry Potter’s position – who catches the snitch to end the game.
The chasers wear white headbands and score points by getting the quaffle – a volleyball – by kicking or throwing it through one of the three hoops at the end of the pitch. Every time the chaser gets the quaffle through the hoop, 10 points are awarded to his or her team.
The beaters wear black headbands and are out to get the other team’s chasers. They throw one of the three bludgers –a dodge ball – at the other team. If hit, they are temporarily knocked out of play and must drop the quaffle and retreat back to their own hoops before coming back into the game.
The keeper, designated by a green headband, is the goaltender.
But the focus of the game is on the yellow-headband wearing seeker and the snitch runner. The seeker must chase after the snitch runner, dressed in all yellow, who runs in and outside the pitch. The snitch runner is a neutral player chosen by the host school and is usually a cross-country runner. The snitch can either be a towel or a tennis ball in a sock that hangs out the snitch runner’s back pocket. Once the snitch has been stolen from the snitch runner by the seeker, that team is awarded 30 points and the game is officially over.
The IQA, according to the official quidditch rule book, describes itself as “an academic- and physical health-oriented nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and governing a real-life version of the sport of Quidditch from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, and utilizing the game to inspire youth to lead more physically active and socially engaged lives.”
The game certainly lends itself to being physical. The team of roughly 30 members meets on the lawn outside the Physics building during Campus Lifetime for an intense practice.
Ahmadizadeh says that workouts combine rugby and basketball drills.
“It is literally the thing I look forward to most during the week, even though Dan makes us run for like five minutes at the beginning,” Abigail McTeirnan, a freshman, said about the once a week practices.
The team learned the basics of the game the first time they got together. They worked on catching and quickly releasing the ball with only one hand. It was shaky at first – players dropped the balls almost every other time.
“How do you catch with only one hand?” junior Jon Millard, a tall, thin, President Obama look-a-like, asked himself while sitting off to the side. “Well, I guess if you bring the ball in close to your chest…” His voice trailed off as he imitated the whole process to himself.
Then they started to play “steal the quaffle,” a game very similar to “steal the bacon,” but with much more intensity. As numbers were called out and people charged to the center of the pitch, they met their opponents head-on. Some members collided into each other and rammed knees and feet.
But by the end of practice, the team was getting the hang of things and was quickly throwing the balls soon after they caught them with only one hand.
The team participated in its first tournament, just three weeks after their first meeting on Sept. 22, in mid-October at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. The event was called the Brotherly Love Tournament. The Bolts came in seventh place out of twelve teams.
That was the weekend that changed everything for the team.
It all started with the 6:30 p.m. train ride from Stony Brook to New York City. They had about an hour between their arrival to Penn Station and their bus departure to Pennsylvania. With the extra time they had, the team explored the city.
For some, it was their first time in the city and seeing attractions like Times Square.
The excitement was built as the Stony Brook Bolts took a Bolt bus into Philadelphia.
The excitement got to be too much for some as game day approached quickly.
“We all cuddled up together,” Nee said. “None of us could sleep. We were so excited and it was like natural caffeine.”
Some of the members of the team woke up at the crack of dawn to help set up for the day’s events and above all else, to learn more about the sport. When the rest of the team woke up, they all worked out for the two hours prior to the start of their game.
At game time, the Bolts were warmed up and ready to go. Anthony Zutter led the procession of the team down a hill to the pitch and did laps while leading the teams in cheers. Blue-eyed and strong-jawed Zutter was no stranger to the game of quidditch. When he is not playing for the Bolts, he competes with another community team
The team was pumped, even more pumped when Ahmadizadeh scored the first goal of the game.
The intensity was reciprocated by the other teams.
“We did not expect that kind of intensity from the other team,” said Nee. “We didn’t expect them to basically throw us on the ground and kick us around.”
Nothing could compare, however, to when the Stony Brook team beat Chestnut Hill with a score of 110-10.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t just pack our bags and leave,” said Ahmadizadeh. “We integrated with all of the other teams. We took pictures. Met other teams. It was the Brotherly Love Tournament.”
All of the tournaments that are held in the fall are in preparation for the big tournament: the World Cup.
This year, the World Cup will be held in New York City on Nov. 13 and 14. Teams from all over the nation and Canada will be competing for the title of the best quidditch team in the land.
The team had to come home to Stony Brook and reality at the end of the weekend, though.
Presently, the club is not funded by the Undergraduate Student Government. USG rule says that any new club wishing to be recognized by USG must wait a full semester before it can receive funding for equipment and other expenses such as transportation and registration fees. Being recognized by USG also means that the team would have access to space in the Student Activities Center and have time on a recreation field.
“The Staller Steps are serving as our office for the time being,” said Ahmadizadeh with a chuckle when he told the team where they would be meeting for practices.
As a result, the Bolts have been doing everything they can to raise money for the time being; their most profitable income being t-shirt sales.
The scarlet shirts can be seen everywhere. They’re emblazoned with the Flash Gordon sign and read “Stony Brook Quidditch.”
The t-shirts aren’t only on the backs of the Stony Brook players. Members of the campus community not involved in the club have bought shirts as well. And the team is on a mission to get high-ranking members of the community and the t-shirts together in as many pictures as possible. After, the author of the freshman seminar book, Junot Diaz, spoke at Commons Day. Members of the team approached him and asked if he would take a picture holding a shirt – he did. They are looking to add Wolfie and members of the sports teams to that list.
The team has done much more for the players than just providing them with something do every Wednesday for an hour or so.
“Everyone is there to have a good time and to go hardcore at something they love,” McTeirnan, who is a biomedical engineering major, said. “It’s such a funny concept that you can’t be in a bad mood while you’re playing.”
The team is about family and coming together for one common purpose.
“Quidditch is our drug,” said Ahmadizadeh. “We’re a team sport where everyone helps each other out at the end of the day. It detoxes you from the daily college work and stress. You have this to retreat to.”
“This is the start of history in the making,” Ahmadizadeh said beaming.