Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Through the Hoops: Vassar, Middlebury and USQ

By Eric Lemaire

In 2007 Middlebury College and Vassar College squared off in the first ever intercollegiate quidditch match—World Cup I. However, as the United States prepares for its first ever national championship (as opposed to previous “World Cups”) it appears likely that neither team will compete at the pinnacle of the sport again. In 2013 both Middlebury and Vassar dropped out of the then International Quidditch Association (now US Quidditch). At a time when quidditch was more popular than ever and still growing, the team that won the first five quidditch World Cups and its rival in the first-ever contest, the school that participated in the first trans-continental match, were absent from the list of official teams. The move stunned many who understood both Middlebury and Vassar to be instrumental parts of muggle quidditch history, and large reasons as to why the sport has spread to more than 20 countries and 300 colleges. But for players at Middlebury and Vassar, there were plenty of reasons to leave official competition.

Make no mistake; both schools still play quidditch regularly and remain devoted to the sport. Middlebury practices once a week on Sundays, while Vassar practices three times a week for two hours each day. For both teams, community development and love of the game are the big reasons why they still play.

“We all understand that silliness is not something that children should have a monopoly on,” said Middlebury beater Avery Travis. Vassar chaser Gabby Scher echoed Travis’ sentiment, adding, “one of the most important things about this sport is making friends and having fun.”

Middlebury, then (World Cup V) and now (2014) | Photos courtesy Middlebury Quidditch

That emphasis on fun and the move to formalize the sport is a big reason why Middlebury grew disillusioned with the IQA. In 2013, the IQA began asking for individual member fees, and the Middlebury players made it clear they didn’t support the decision.

“We just play quidditch for love of the game,” Middlebury Quidditch Tri-Commissioner Gus Longo said. “We didn't want to make people pay to join, so that’s basically why we're not in the IQA anymore.”

Financial concerns aren’t the only reason Middlebury players cite when asked why they chose to break from the IQA. Some members of Middlebury’s team also see flaws in the new snitching regulations.

“I understand that as the tournaments become more official and contested, the snitch can cause confusion,” said Travis. “But I also think that it should be possible to resolve those problems without taking the magic out of the game.”

While the idea of paying even more to be official IQA members did seem to factor into Vassar’s reasoning as well, it was hardly the only issue the team had with the organization. One of the big issues for Vassar was related to developments in the IQA’s gender rules. Some Vassar players specifically object to rules disallowing all-women colleges such as Smith College from qualifying for official games.

“The fact that women's colleges could not register if every team member was a woman does nothing to encourage gender equality,” said Vassar beater Logan Keane.

Scher felt the same way; “While we felt that the gender rules are important, the IQA was going to make it so that teams like Smith would have to somehow find non-female identified players to be able to be part of the IQA, and that is ridiculous.”

Scher also objected to the level of violence that has become more common in the sport.

“[I am in full support of] our team not wanting to be a part of this new age of quidditch where teams would focus more on how aggressive they could be and not on having fun while still be competitive and not hurting anyone,” she said.

Scher’s statement seems to be influenced by a minor concussion she received from another quidditch player who was playing aggressively. Additionally, some of Vassar’s players seem to prefer off-pitch seeking to the recently developed rules that confine snitch and seeker play to the pitch throughout the game. This is primarily motivated by the ability to get to know the other seeker while relentlessly searching for the snitch.

Despite these issues, however, both Vassar and Middlebury remain just as active as before. Vassar and Middlebury attend many tournaments at other schools. Furthermore, Vassar also holds two tournaments per academic year, other quidditch-inspired events (such as a Yule Ball) and other opportunities for socializing among the Vassar quidditch community. While the attitude at Middlebury and Vassar may be more laid back than competitive teams like New York University Nundu or the RPI RPI Remembralls, the team members seem to prefer playing quidditch this way rather than with a more competitive mindset.

“[I’m] not opposed to the IQA, or now USQ, or rejoining in the future depending on what the team wants,” said Longo.

Despite a perceived respect for the organization, Longo is more focused on what the team wants and does not feel that being a member of USQ is right for Middlebury at this point in time. Vassar chaser and captain Macall McQueen seemed to feel similarly.

“We owe a lot to USQ for helping establish and spread quidditch as a playable sport with consistent rules,” he said. “USQ remains relevant because it continues to improve the rulebook, and its existence helps legitimize the sport and increase its visibility.” McQueen did not sound optimistic in regards to Vassar returning soon to USQ. “At this point in time, however, I don’t think Vassar would gain anything from USQ membership. We already get to participate in plenty of tournaments without having to deal with the USQ’s fees and red tape.”

There appears to be varying levels of feelings about USQ from both teams, but the general consensus is that USQ has instituted changes that don’t appear to line up with what quidditch means to these teams. Both teams, however, have clearly proven that being a member of USQ is not the only piece of the puzzle needed to play quidditch. It is a dynamic sport with a wide range of attitudes and perceptions about it. Nonetheless, it continues to grow in popularity and continues to change as the sport transfers over to the public eye in a bigger way. Are Vassar and Middlebury the first of many teams to leave? Or are there different circumstances that make USQ viable for some teams but not others?

1 comment:

  1. I went to a colonial village one time where they played a super antiquated version of baseball and all the dudes had silly pants and mustaches. That's kinda how I'm viewing these teams.