Features

Potter in the park: Brown Muggles seek more than Snitches

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Armed with a golden tube sock containing a tennis ball, the human snitch stood atop a hill, pushing students back down the sloping field to prevent them from capturing the celebrated “Harry Potter” prize. Below, students mounted on brooms ran between goalposts. 

The India Point Ashwinders gathered last Sunday afternoon to recreate J.K. Rowling’s fantastical game of Quidditch, the signature wizarding sport in her best-selling series. Once a week, these students dive into a world of quaffles, bludgers and snitches, exercising more than just their imagination.

 

The team that lived

The India Point Ashwinders were born of the union of two social groups on campus – students who live in Tech House and students who lived in Perkins last year. Jeffrey Blum ‘12.5 of Tech House and Derik Wagner ’15, formerly of Perkins, now serve as co-captains of their nascent team.

“I was always a bookish type. I did sports when I had to. And then I found Quidditch, and I realized I hadn’t found the right sport yet,” said Blum, who ran cross country and track in high school, mostly to avoid a physical education requirement.

The engineering flair of a team half comprising Tech House residents reveals itself in the Ashwinders’ drills and scrimmages. “The first thing Jeff did was prescribe an ellipse in mathematica and measure the distance of the field,” Ashwinders member Moi Arriaga ’13 said.

Last fall, Wagner applied to have the team approved as a student group and was referred to the athletics department, which did not grant the team official status. Blum had independently started his own efforts to form a team in the spring. The two soon found each other and created the Ashwinders, but they have yet to garner approval from the athletics department.

As the Ashwinders have no official Brown affiliation, team members elected to name themselves after their primary practice location: India Point Park. From there, the team found a website cataloguing all magical animals that have ever been mentioned in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and spitballed names until one stuck: the Ashwinders. Gray snakes with incarnadine eyes, ashwinders are only mentioned once in the series as a potion ingredient. They cut impressive figures in the team’s jerseys, which feature the ashwinder coiled around the three goals of a Quidditch field and were designed by team member Elizabeth MacDougal ’15.

 

Straight no chaser

The most recent Ashwinders practice seemed more like an exhibition, continually interrupted by passersby whose reactions ranged from admiration to confusion. Rarely was there a moment in which the Ashwinders were not being immortalized through the local paparazzi’s digital or iPhone cameras. Joggers, skateboarders and fishermen all stopped to watch the Ashwinders dash across the field, their brooms almost an extension of themselves rather than an obstacle to speed.

Then the sounds of the I-95 that runs along the peak of the park rushed in, and the team was brought back down to reality once more.

“Quidditch is a game that requires as much imagination as skill,” said Providence resident Elizabeth Basset, one of the many spectators at the team’s practice and an ardent “Harry Potter” fan.

One spectator struck up a conversation with Blum and revealed she was a former beater for Middlebury College, the birthplace of college Quidditch.

One practice last month occurred at the same time as PRONK!, an annual street band festival that took place at India Point Park. Large numbers of festival-goers crowded around the field to watch the game. Many of them – some as young as eight years old – joined in. 

 

Hufflepuff-ing 

“People try to draw analogues to Quidditch to compare it to other sports, but always end up comparing it to four or more sports. Chasers kind of resemble rugby, bludgers resemble dodgeball, the nonstop action resembles soccer. There’s no perfect analogy,” Wagner said.

Games typically last 15 to 20 minutes, with the one notable exception being the Ashwinders’ 45-minute game against Brandeis University. Some Quidditch teams have more than 20 members, allowing for multiple substitutions. But the Ashwinders have a core team of fewer than 10 committed students and two community members, leaving little time to rest. 

Gravity was the primary obstacle to adapting the magical game of Quidditch to a Muggle world. Luckily for the Ashwinders, the International Quidditch Association had already devised many innovations to make this airborne game suitable to be played on a field.

“The people from Middlebury who adapted the game did an extraordinarily amazing job in (figuring) out how to capture the spirit of the game while making allowances (for) things that are not possible,” Blum said. These allowances include reducing the point value of the snitch to a reasonable 30 points, introducing a third bludger to prevent a monopoly from any one team and the transformation of the snitch from a levitating charm to a human with long-distance running experience. 

But due to their limited funds, the Ashwinders had to make some allowances of their own. With no cars or other modes of transport, the Ashwindersan> trekked to India Point Park carrying their Quidditch field with them: six buckets full of concrete, six goal hoops and deflated volleyballs. Until late October, the team did not even have brooms. They had been running from goalpost to goalpost with tubes of PVC pipe between their legs.

Now, thanks to an anonymous donation, the Ashwinders have brooms: “Competition Sweeps.” A product of Alivan’s – an online store inspired by Ollivander’s shop in the J.K. Rowling books- these ash brooms with an ebony finish are the official brooms of choice in all major Quidditch competitions.

White and black headbands indicate chasers and beaters, respectively. With such a small team, these headbands are in constant motion as players swap positions to facilitate drills and scrimmages. 

Three members on the team are dedicated swap players, while the remaining members have begun to specialize in their respective positions. Arriaga – a dedicated chaser who stands nearly a full head above all his fellow players – stands out as a dominant force. “Tackling (him) is a challenge,” Blum said.

 

30 points to the Ashwinders

The star of the show is the snitch runner. A sprinter clad entirely in yellow, the runner has a tennis ball in a sock attached to his or her shorts. After entering the game about 15 minutes in, snitch runners do almost anything to avoid losing their tennis ball.

The only rules restricting snitch runners concern what they cannot do, with the assumption that anything not mentioned is fair game. In their first season alone, the Ashwinders have encountered tree-climbing, bicycle-riding and water balloon-throwing snitches. Some of the best snitches know wrestling throws that slow down the seekers, but the Ashwinders were just as easily handicapped by one snitch who scampered around the field hugging players in the midst of a game. “The snitch is the showman of Quidditch,” said Blum, who plays seeker. “The snitch’s job is to exploit the fact that we have to carry a broom between our legs, and they don’t.”

During the team’s first match against Clark University, Blum spotted a figure dressed entirely in yellow roaming around the park. He sprinted after it, only to realize moments later that he had been chasing a fisherman in a yellow jumpsuit. “Yellow’s supposed to be the color that not many people wear,” Blum said.

These oddities of the game do not impair the players’ concentration. “While we’re playing, we’re all in the zone, but we’ve all had those moments before or after games where we sit back and realize, ‘we’re playing Quidditch,'” Blum said with a smile. “It’s amazing to think this is something we can do.”

  • Derik Wagner

    If you want to be a part of the India Point Ashwinders, join us on Facebook!

  • Anonymous

    The sport of quidditch has been revolutionized by one player, Nathan Kingston. With his hard work and dedication he has made a name for the Brown team. His mastery of calculated positioning is unmatched in the entire quidditch community. Anyone who says otherwise, clearly doesn’t understand the game. Nathan Kingston 2012.

  • Hermione Granger

    Go Ashwinders!!! Best game on Earth, played by the best team! Ashwinders 4evah 😀

  • Tax

    You guys are great – Brown needs to get their act together and instate you as a club team.