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March 30, 2013

VIDEO: Oklahoma State students compete in Harry Potter’s fictional sport

STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s a familiar setting. Two teams compete against each other with the purpose of scoring a goal. However, instead of one hoop, there are three. And players ride brooms.

Welcome to Quidditch, a sport that was once fictional and only found in the world of Harry Potter. Now, the game has been adjusted to work as a functional sport and has taken hold at numerous universities and colleges around the world. Mark Woolard, 21, is the captain of the Oklahoma State University Quidditch team.

“It’s a combination of rugby, flag football and dodgeball,” Woolard said.

The full-contact sport has simple rules. Three hoops are placed at each end of the field. Players choose a position such as Chasers, who use a slightly deflated volleyball — the Quaffle — to score points by throwing it through the hoops. The Beaters use dodgeballs, or Bludgers, to strike any of the opposing players to “knock them out” (forcing the player to return to his goal to touch it before resuming play). The Keeper’s job is much like a goalie in soccer. The Seeker attempts to capture the Snitch, which would end the game and award 30 additional points to their team.

Woolard said the Snitch is usually a cross country runner dressed in all yellow who has a sock hanging from the back of their shorts. Inside the sock is a tennis ball. If the Seeker captures this sock, all play ends. All players must hold onto their brooms while playing except the Snitch.

Woolard attended the Oklahoma School of Science and Math, the first high school in Oklahoma to have the sport, he said. He said he loved participating and when it came to attending OSU, he was happy to find that the school had a Quidditch club.

“I showed up and the team was actually really small,” he said. “I showed up and they were like, ‘Cool, you get to be the seeker.’ I was like, ‘Oh great, I get to run around forever because I wasn’t really built for cross country or anything like that.”

Woolard is not only the captain of the team, but the coach and vice president of the group.

He said he fields questions about the sport from curious onlookers.

“Everyone always asks, ‘Do you fly?’ And the obvious answer is just a dumb look,” he said. “Can you fly? No, I can’t fly. We play riding PVC brooms.”

He said the broom aspect adds a degree of difficulty for players, limiting you to one hand. Not all players are big fans of the Harry Potter series.

“No, there are quite a few players who actually play the sport, but they don’t read the books,” Woolard said.

“They’ve watched maybe two movies. You don’t have to be a fan of the books or Harry Potter to play the sport. It’s grown a lot to kind of set itself apart from Harry Potter.”

Team member Kirsten Grammer, 18, said she already had plans to play Quidditch before she came to OSU, but wasn’t sure if she would stick with it.

“I heard that collegiate teams were being formed,” she said.

“I came to the practice. I thought it was kind of a joke. Everybody’s running around on brooms; it’s kind of laughable, but once I came to the practice and actually got to play the sport, it’s something that people actually play.”

Grammer said the sport is challenging and varies with what position players choose to adopt.

“You have to be physically fit,” she said.

“You have to be able to run for a long period of time. I was a cross country runner, so the running hasn’t really been a problem. But I’ve had to do weightlifting because people knock you around and guys and girls and no one’s nice about it.”

Grammer said she’s seen players with injuries ranging from jammed fingers and dislocated elbows to knee and ankle issues.

“It’s a pretty rough sport,” she said. “They have paramedics on the tournament sites.”

A few other Quidditch teams exist in the state, including teams at Oklahoma Baptist University, Southwestern Oklahoma State University and new startups at Oklahoma City University and the University of Oklahoma.

Woolard said Quidditch brings out a variety of personalities.

“People who were uninterested in traditional sports, it gets them in an untraditional or nontraditional sport,” he said. “People who didn’t really like going out to football or basketball games who were kind of introverted, now, we’re bringing them out of their shell in college and making them extroverted and introducing them to a wide variety of people. We have jocks, we have nerds, artists, scientists, a huge variety on the team.”

The OSU Quidditch team was founded by former OSU student America Y and has a campus adviser, Delta Gordon.

“We’ve grown a lot to anywhere from 21 to 26 people trying to get on the roster of 21 people,” Woolard said.

The team travels to three to five tournaments each year.

This year, the team will be attending the World Cup held April 13-14 in Kissimmee, Fla.

They will potentially compete against teams from the United States, Australia, France and Mexico.

Woolard and Grammer agreed they would like to see the sport become more known to the public and OSU students.

“Quidditch is not a sport for nerds as much as it sounds like it,” Grammer said. “I remember, I almost kind of cringe a little bit when I tell people I play Quidditch because they don’t understand right away how much of a physical sport it is and how much running is involved.

“I know the broom thing kind of turns people off to it, but you don’t even think about it anymore after you’ve been playing for a while.”

For more information, search for “Oklahoma State University Quidditch Association” on Facebook.

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