You know that feeling when you’re at a party and everyone seems to know everyone? It’s like, they’re all having a great time, and you wish you could jump into a conversation and have a good time, but first you need to figure out where the bathroom is because – despite the best efforts of your friends and family – you came utterly unprepared?
That’s the best way I can describe my first couple months at college.
In my mind, I was ready to get out of the house and live on my own. I was so excited to get out of the Missouri suburbs and move halfway across the country to Boston. My mom cried when she dropped me off on campus, but I was too busy looking forward to all the great things I was going to do in college to be sad.
Maybe I should’ve spent a little more time in the present. It only took two days for me to lose my key and realize I accidentally left half of my underwear at home. It’s really tough to be confident enough to talk to any of the thousands of other students when you’re wearing the same pair of underwear for the third time that week.
I decided to attend my university’s groups fair a couple weeks after the semester started. (Well, I didn’t decide to go so much as my RA made my entire floor go, but it always helps to frame things positively.)
I didn’t realize how big of an event it was.
They call the groups fair Splash because it’s the time when all of the new students will get to “dive in” and pick from about 500 clubs and organizations on campus. It’s a great idea in theory, but I can not overstate how overwhelming it was having our school’s soccer field covered end–to–end with 500 tables—each advertising a “new” and “unique” experience—and more college students than people who live in my hometown.
I did get lucky, though. There were exactly three people whom I was comfortable talking to, so we diligently made our way through the chaos, zig-zagging through dozens of rows of student government groups, dance teams, a-capella troupes and the like. And because I was so desperate to make friends, I put my name down on more than 10 email lists. If it looked even remotely interesting, I signed up. Philosophy Club, the Music Network, Excursion Club, Board Games Club, the spoken-word poetry club; I could go on for paragraphs. I got an email or two nearly every day for the rest of my freshman year because of that.
After we spent the requisite two and a half hours sweatily traipsing through the smorgasbord of options, we decided to go back to our dorm.
On the way out, I saw a group of people that caught my eye.
They didn’t have a table, just three hoops of different heights that all looked to be made of PVC. They had long plastic tubes lying on the ground next to an array of volleyballs and dodgeballs that all looked like they were missing a little air.
It was quidditch.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I read all seven books (for the first time) during winter break in fourth grade, so of course I had to check it out. Unfortunately, the people I was with all said it looked dumb. So, I did what any shy 18 year old would do when your only friends think your interests are stupid: I pretended to go to the bathroom, ditched my friends, signed up for quidditch and met up with them for lunch a little later.
It was the best—really, the only good—decision I made in my first month of college, and I couldn’t wait until the learning day and tryouts the next week.
I didn’t play any sports in high school, but I was in marching band. So, while I could control my breathing really well, I wasn’t the most athletic person in the world. And I played trumpet, so I didn’t even build the arm and shoulder muscles that baritone and euphonium players do.
I didn’t think that would matter, though. I loved Harry Potter, and I had a great imagination; that was all I thought I needed.
I expected something along the lines of LARP-ing, just with a little more jogging.
I wasn’t even close. Quidditch (technically, muggle quidditch, but we don’t worry about semantics) is a full-contact, co-ed sport. The upperclassmen put a lot of emphasis on that last word when they were teaching us. One of my friends summed it up well in an interview with CBS Boston, saying, “When it started, it was definitely a lot of nerds playing sports. And now it’s a lot of athletic kids playing a nerdy sport.”
In its gameplay, quidditch is similar to the offensive setup of lacrosse; the speed of basketball; the skills of handball; and the physicality of rugby. You just have to master all of that, and boom! you’re a great quidditch player. It’s just as difficult as it sounds.
Quidditch also has beaters, players who have the power to take you out of the play with a single throw, which are unlike anything else in sports. But what really threw me off was the broom. You have to keep a 3-4-foot plastic tube (the broom) between your legs at all times, including when you’re running, catching, throwing and subbing.
The general rule is that it takes about two months for new players to get used to the broom, but it can be a lot longer when you’re equally worried about your dignity as you are about the rules of the game. I was just glad that practices were on a fairly secluded field so none of my classmates would see me penguin-ing around for a few hours every Sunday and Thursday.
So, you’re a nerd. What about it?
Quidditch changed my whole life, and it’s shaped my first two years in college. For starters, if I never run out of space to carry things in my arms, I’m now really good at holding and carrying things with my legs.
I’ve gotten to have a lot of great experiences too. Our team has traveled to Rochester, NY; Austin, TX; and New York City for regional and national tournaments. Of course, it’s always cool to travel and play sports, but these trips all come with the added bonus of having an excuse to miss class and exploring places that I’ve never been to.
Lastly, being on the team, I immediately gained 30 new friends who have become my family, and I’ve gotten to know people from other colleges around the country through the sport. There are kids in high school who play quidditch; there are 30–year–old dentists who play quidditch; and I’ve gotten to meet people who fit in every part of that spectrum.
It’s not just about what I’ve gained from quidditch, though. Our team often goes into the community and partners with libraries, museums and zoos to teach young children to play quidditch. These are great fundraising opportunities, sure, but there aren’t many things more fun than seeing a dozen children in elementary school run around in their Hogwarts robes (in college, we don’t wear robes, and we can’t fly, just to clear those two things up) with their parents gawking and “Aw!”-ing and taking pictures.
These events are important to the core of quidditch. The sport is only 12 years old, so we’re all still trying to figure out how to play and how to extend our reach past a small niche group. The key is that it’s cooperative. We’re all working together, the thousands of people across the country—and around the world—to spread the word about our favorite sport.
The community around quidditch is incredible. That’s the most important part. I came into college a scared, shy boy from the Midwest. It only took a minor act of courage to step away from my friends and try something new, something that gave me a reason to get out of bed at 6 a.m. on Wednesdays, as well as a new passion. I entered college so ready to move on with my life, but because of quidditch and the bonds I’ve made playing our “fake sport,” I’m terrified to think that I only have two years left.