By Andy Marmer
The following is the opinion of the author and does not represent the opinions of the Quidditch Post.
On Wednesday Sept. 23, on his first-ever visit to the United States, Pope Francis canonized Junípero Serra. Serra’s canonization was widely reported as the first on American soil, yet most reading this will recognize this statement to be profoundly untrue. On a fall New England day over 10 years ago on Middlebury’s Battell Beach, quidditch was born; it grew quickly and was eventually canonized. To say that quidditch has developed rapidly is a massive understatement. And while Serra may not have been the first canonized in the United States, his has a distinction. Junípero Serra’s sainthood will live forever. The spirit of Saint Quidditch is dead.
The lifespan of Saint Quidditch cannot be exactly known, but its path to canonization is a clear one. While many miracles may be attributed to its existence, two in particular deserve special discussion. Saint Quidditch created an environment where all people – regardless of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity – felt safe and welcome. Saint Quidditch also created an environment where everyone – regardless of athletic background – felt welcome to participate, try something new, and run around with a cape on their back and a broom between their legs. Saint Quidditch made sure that everyone had fun, and no one took things too seriously.
Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
In the original incarnation of the rulebook, players were expected to call their own beats, and fouls were virtually non-existent. It has been said many times before, but it’s very difficult to take a sport seriously when players are expected to self-officiate. (Although it is worth noting that sports such as ultimate frisbee do sustainably rely a great deal on self-officiating.) Sometime between the first game ever played and today, we lost the expectation that players would honestly regulate their own gameplay. While the advancement of refereeing may be in part responsible, that such a change was instituted is perhaps the largest cause of a change. To be sure, this has been a gradual process; in the past, if a player was struck by a bludger they would be more likely to return to hoops than keep playing. The opposite is now true.
The evolution of the sport has been a natural outgrowth of its popularity, and the calculus is relatively simple. As quidditch has become more legitimate in the eyes of mainstream culture, it has gravitated toward an increased emphasis on winning. There are a number of possible explanations for this, including more appeal to those looking for competitive outlets and increased investment by players, which in turn has created a greater emphasis on winning to justify said investment. All of these and other undiscussed factors are self-replicating.
There are a few possible motivators of this change. It could be as simple as the old guard – those players who remember when a World Cup was held in New York, or even Vermont – having their priorities change over time as they played the sport longer. Another possible theory is that as quidditch evolves, it attracts more people with athletic backgrounds who care more about winning than the sport’s unique culture.
Ultimately, the cause is irrelevant.
An unassailable truth has developed from all of these changes; quidditch is not what it once was. It no longer breeds an environment where anybody can come and try the sport from Harry Potter, where anybody can run around on the campus green to get exercise with some friends and try a quirky new sport. Of course, this is not universally applicable, but as quidditch has grown more competitive, it has grown less welcoming.
The role of gender in the sport – one of Saint Quidditch’s miracles – has also taken a recent turn for the worse. It is exceedingly rare to see more than two non-male players on the pitch at any given time, especially compared to the early days. Non-male players are more marginalized now than in the past. Increased claims of sexual assault – I’m speculating that this is more commonly perpetrated against non-males – and anecdotal evidence show that many feel less welcome in the quidditch community than they or others have previously. (I should probably add here that I’m speaking from an American perspective and therefore can’t speak for other countries.)
Much of what I just described has been true for the entirety of the post-Middlebury era. Yet recently the final nail was hammered into Saint Quidditch’s cross. The advent of MLQ’s inaugural season and ensuing expansion to the south and west has eliminated the last remaining whimsical, competition-free realm of quidditch. Summer once was all about fun scrimmages with new people learning the game; this begat fantasy tournaments, which led to more organized scrimmages in large cities. Now, dozens of players nationwide represent their teams and come together to seek the MLQ Championship Cup in a format that is sure to seem increasingly more reminiscent of the regular season as the sport continues to grow. Competitive quidditch is now played from September until April and May until August. There is no longer a quidditch off-season.
Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
Of course, this may not be bad. Most people reading this, I suspect, will view the expansion of quidditch and competitive opportunities as normatively good. In some ways, I agree. If some quidditch is good, more quidditch can also be good. The problem is not with what we gain, it’s with what we’ve lost. The spirit of Saint Quidditch is dead.
The good news is that with work we can resurrect the spirit of Saint Quidditch. There is no returning from where we now are to where we have been – Pandora’s box of the competitive spirit has been opened and it cannot be closed. This problem is not a new one. In explaining the decision to have Division II at World Cup VI, then-Chief Operating Officer Alicia Radford wrote on the IQA Tumblr: “Quidditch is like the Statue of Liberty of sports: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ Quidditch is the gateway to sports for a lot of people. In children and adults, it cultivates a feeling of belonging, of inclusivity, of a family. We don’t want to close the door to those people.” In that same post, Radford speculated on a possible future for Division II, one that has not yet come to be.
While the circumstances have changed since Radford’s post, the issue has not. There needs to be room for divisions in quidditch. Initially, this was intended to be split among those that took quidditch seriously, and those that did not. Recent calls for a Division II have focused on a community-college split or a best-of-the-rest mentality, and there is certainly value in that. Of course, maybe then the solution would actually be three divisions?
The original Division II at World Cup V was a limited success. Rochester Institute of Technology and Purdue University competed in the finals and both have subsequently emerged as solid quidditch programs – thanks in part to the foundation laid by competing at a World Cup. World Cup VI’s Division II can hardly be considered the same. Once a limit on teams was introduced to Division I, Division II became a grounds for teams that expected to qualify and did not, and also for teams that were nearby that wouldn’t have to incur huge travel costs. However, the finals ended up consisting of Sam Houston State University and Loyola University of New Orleans, two teams that again were able to build off of their experiences in Division II.
Any conversation today about divisional splits begins and ends with one dreaded word: logistics. I won’t pretend to have all of the answers to solve the divisional split or resurrect the spirit of Saint Quidditch. However, there are many bright people in the quidditch community with backgrounds in sports, games, and various other competitions who can bring their experience to solving the question. It may take a creative solution; perhaps a tournament hosted outside of US Quidditch Cup – such as the one being discussed by Texas State – can succeed, but there are ways to solve the issue with trial and error and proposals. If anyone has any such proposal, they can email them to the Quidditch Post, and we will work with you to refine and publish if you’d like.
What concerns me the most personally is that the current state of quidditch does not in any way resemble what the sport once was. What we have now isn’t bad, but what we had then was something special. This does not need to be a “one or the other” proposition. These two worlds can coexist, and we as a community should work to make sure that they do. The Spirit of Saint Quidditch is dead, but it – and the carefree fun that accompanied it – can and should be revived.