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Quidditch Tournament turns magical game into serious sport

By JAMIE HALE
Of The Oregonian

PORTLAND — “The first thing people usually ask is about the flying,” Benji B'Shalom, captain of the Portland Augureys, explained. As in, do the broomsticks stuck between every athlete's legs really fly? Is there really magic involved?

His answer? No, sadly, there is no flying, no magic, no Harry Potter in real-life quidditch.

“People come out the first time and usually they're looking for that novelty,” he said. Once the novelty wears off they start to really play the game - that's when the real magic happens.

The Portland Augureys and five other teams competed - “broomsticks” and all - at the Portland Quidditch Tournament in Hillsboro, the area's first officially recognized quidditch competition.

If you're not familiar with J.K. Rowling's “Harry Potter” series, you might not know much about quidditch, a magical sport played by the witches and wizards who inhabit the author's universe. Ever since the books became popular, fans have tried to make quidditch a reality, evolving it from college campus novelty to serious sport over the last 10 years.

Students at Middlebury College in Vermont first brought the game to life in 2005. By 2010, U.S. Quidditch became a formal organization, today standardizing rules for the nearly 200 recognized teams nationwide.

The teams are made up of players young and old, fans of the series and folks who simply enjoy playing the game.

“Part of the point of having quidditch in the first place was capturing the magic,” B'Shalom said. “You're always thinking in the back of your mind, ‘I'm playing quidditch, this is so cool.’”

Still, there's a smidgen of disappointment knowing this isn't authentic quidditch - that the players aren't actually magical beings flying through the air on enchanted brooms. But once you pull your head out of the “Harry Potter” universe, this Muggle version of the sport becomes a real treat.

The game deviates a bit from the way witches and wizards play it in “Harry Potter,” but it runs by the same basic rules.

Players known as chasers score points by tossing the primary game ball, the quaffle, through one of three hoops on the opponent's end of the field. Defenders, called beaters, can stop their progress by nailing them with one of two red rubber balls, called bludgers. Each goal gets you 10 points, but the real points come with catching the golden snitch.

“The sporting aspect (of quidditch) can't be understated one bit,” B'Shalom said.

In the books the snitch is a little golden ball charmed to speed around the playing area until one of the teams’ seekers manages to catch it. In real-life quidditch, the snitch - worth 30 points - is a ball stuffed into a sock stuck to the back of a neutral player's shorts. The person playing the snitch comes onto the pitch 18 minutes into the game, running from and grappling with the seekers.

Once the snitch is caught, the game is over. The team with the most points wins.

Nothing about quidditch is particularly whimsical. There are no wands, no cloaks, no Patronus spells cast on the pitch. This is a rough-and-tumble sport, one that mandates use of mouth guards and banned wooden broomsticks after they began to shatter in play. People walk away bloodied, bludgeoned and itching for more.

The uninitiated have a tendency to smirk, Augurey player Jeff Chatteron said, asking if quidditch is something like Harry Potter cosplay.

“We're like, ‘no, no, think rugby,’” he said. “Think rugby but cooler.”

Ruggers might take offense, but the man has a point. Put quidditch on the ground, and it really does resemble rugby, with players running with and passing off the quaffle before getting slammed by either a bludger or an opponent flying through the air.

At the Portland tournament two Augurey players received yellow cards for physical play, including one for a rough tackle that left an opposing Western Washington Wyvern absolutely floored. In truth, that brutality is paying proper homage to Rowling's creation - remember that game of quidditch in “The Chamber of Secrets” when Harry broke his arm, then lost all his bones?

Novelty sports don't tend to live long, but quidditch might be serious enough to last longer than most. The Portland Augureys have practiced twice a week for the last two years. They travel to northern Washington, Idaho and California to compete. They had to pay big money to Hillsboro Parks and Recreation to keep the lights on over the field at the Portland tournament.

They take it seriously, and plan on playing as long as there's interest in the team. Recruitment has been up and down, but the Augureys benefit from the true magic of real-life quidditch, B'Shalom said: “It turns nerds into athletes and athletes into nerds.”

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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