UNIVERSITY PARK- Junior classman Jeremy Ross was looking to join a unique club sport as a freshman at Penn State University.
Enter Quidditch, an internationally governed sport pulled from the pages of J.K. Rowling's best-selling "Harry Potter" book series.
The 20-year-old, who is studying architecture, is in his third year playing on the university's team, the Flying Lions, founded in 2009.
Courtesy photo by Steven Kelly
Members of the Penn State Quidditch team participate in a scrimmage with New York University at Hofstra University in 2012.
"I was a fan of both [the books and sports], but I was definitely looking for a club sport to get involved in that wasn't mainstream," Ross said. "I was looking for something that was different because I know a lot of people when they come out of high school they want to stay athletic and they want to be involved in club sports, but sometimes the level of competition is much higher than you expect ...
"When I went to this, it was still incredibly competitive and actually really physical, which is nice, but there was [also] a level of friendliness that was there, that was lacking in the others, because it was new. It's a very new and unique sport, and it was a great opportunity to become a part of team that still gave me that physical athletic attribute."
In the books, Potter, a boy wizard, and his classmates at Hogwarts, a wizarding school, play Quidditch on flying broomsticks.
If you go
What: Penn State University Quidditch home tournament
When: Noon, Oct. 5
Where: Stadium Field West, next to Beaver Stadium
For more information on quidditch, visit the International Quidditch Association's web site at www.iqaquidditch.com
Aside from the magical components, much of the game in real life remains true to its fantastical counterpart as Ross, a PSU Chaser, and the website of the International Quidditch Association, the non-profit governing the sport, explained it.
Each team is made up of three Chasers, two Beaters, a Keeper and a Seeker.
Players all carry broomsticks and must keep the broom between their legs at all times. "Brooms Up," is a call to begin play.
Chasers run the quaffle, which is a semi-deflated volleyball, down the field. They can also pass it to teammates and kick it.
The object is to get the quaffle through one of three hoops located at opposite ends of the field for each team. A goal is worth 10 points.
Beaters carry bludgers, which are dodgeballs they use to knock out players from the other team. A player hit is out until they can touch their own goals.
The Keeper's job is to guard the goals, while a Seeker is trying to catch the Snitch, which is a tennis ball attached to a neutral third-party player, known as the Snitch runner, who is dressed in gold or yellow and uses any means to avoid capture.
Capturing the Snitch is worth 30 points and ends the game.
"The only way to end the game is through the Snitch catch but the person Snitch will handicap itself so it will be easier to catch. Like taking away his use of his arm or arms," Sarah Kelly, 20, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, who is a Chaser for the PSU team, said in an email.
The Snitch runner is typically a cross-country runner or a player from another one of the college's sports teams.
While the Seeker must hold on to his or her broomstick with a hand at all times, the Snitch runner has freedom to avoid capture and "it's not uncommon to see Snitches be either faster than you or much bigger than you," Ross said. "A lot of them if they aren't cross country runners, they're wrestlers, so they can throw you to the ground, they can sprint past you, they can climb up trees, they've been known to steal bikes and ride away."
The Snitch adds a creative light-heartedness to the game, Ross said.
He said the sport started with people attracted to it because of the "Harry Potter" aspect, but has taken on it's own identity as "it's getting more and more recognition and awareness that it's actually not like a silly sport," he said.
"Like, today I was talking to someone who is in club gymnastics and they said, 'Oh well, you know, [Quidditch is] not really that serious. It's kind of silly. It's juvenile almost,' but it's not. It's just incredibly, incredibly serious. It's legitimate. The physicality and athleticism required to play the sport rivals that of any other club sport."
The game can be dangerous and separated shoulders, torn ligaments or broken bones are not uncommon, Ross said.
The most serious injury a Flying Lion has suffered was a torn knee ligament, he said.
Alyson Brooks, a 21-year-old senior studying international politics, plays the position of Chaser. She started on the team in her freshman year.
She said the team became part of the international organization during the 2010-11 school year. It then became a club sport in 2011-12. Before that the sport was run through PSU's Harry Potter club, The Three Broomsticks.
"I really like the people. Everyone's really nice and honestly that's where I found most of my friends," Brooks, a member of the The Three Broomsticks, said.
She said Quidditch is "a good way to stay in shape" and while still competitive Quidditch wasn't as intense in that aspect as some other club sports.
The sport of Quidditch "is rapidly gaining ground every year," IQA's mid-Atlantic Regional Director Alex Krall said in an email.
A freshman at the time, Xander Manshel started Quidditch in 2005 at Middlebury College in Vermont, the IQA website said.
"There are over 300 registered teams around the world, and 175 official member teams in the last season. From 2007 - 2011, the competitive capstone event, the Quidditch World Cup, grew from two teams to 96 teams, which prompted the introduction of a qualifying system whereby teams now have to compete to earn a spot to World Cup," Krall said. "On any given weekend between September and April, you can expect between one to five tournaments occurring around the league. An interesting trend this season is the large growth of community teams (those not affiliated with a university or other school) due to the graduation of members from their school teams."
The Quidditch World Cup VII will take place April 5 and 6 in North Myrtle Beach, SC. Penn State's Quidditch team has participated in the last three World Cups held in New York twice and then in April in Kissimmee, Fla.
Out of 175 teams, PSU's Quidditch team finished 25th overall last season, and second in the mid-Atlantic Region, behind the University of Maryland, ranked no. 4 overall, Krall said.
They play against teams from the University of Maryland, Villanova University, Johns Hopkins University, Lock Haven and Ohio State, Brooks said.
The sport is open to anyone, but only 21 people can attend tournaments, Kelly said. The decision of who goes is left up to the captains.
Kelly, who started playing Quidditch at the suggestion of her sister and her sister's boyfriend - who play for the Quidditch team at Ball State University in Indiana - said she fell in love with her teammates and the sport.
"I love that it's a co-ed sport as well. It adds a challenging aspect that most other sports don't provide as well as giving us the chance to make friends with people of both genders. It also adds a competitive boys Vs. girls edge, which I love," Kelly said.
The IQA goes beyond just embracing Quidditch as a co-ed sport. It incorporates Title 9 3/4, an advocacy and awareness branch ensuring IQA policies promote gender equality and inclusivity, the website said.
Brooks, like others on the team, wants people to know the sport is serious.
"I guess what I'd like people to know is it's not just a bunch of Harry Potter nerds going out and running around on brooms and just fooling around," she said. "It's actually pretty serious. There are people on the team who have never read Harry Potter before, haven't even seen the movies, and they just come out because they want to hit people, tackle them or peg people with balls. It's not just Harry Potter nerds."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.