Sunday, October 19, 2014

Same Sunday Snitch; different home

By Andy Marmer

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This week’s column will be a bit different than most. Usually, I try to address on-the-field results and make sense of them, but this week I find that the most pressing stories were not ones that happened on the pitch but rather off.

The Future of Quidditch

Yesterday, quidditch writer (and if we’re being honest, celebrity) Jack “thePhan” McGovern hosted his first tournament. I’ve had the privilege of working with McGovern for a year and a half now, ever since Jack (you’ll forgive me, readers, for referring to him by his first name when the quidditch world only learned his true identity recently) first took over the Monday Snitch column from me following World Cup VI. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a year co-writing the Weekend that Was column with him for USQ, GMing three fantasy tournaments against him, and spearheading USQ’s wildly successful World Cup VII coverage. In short, I’ve been able to see up close how talented, smart, and passionate Jack is. What I find especially amazing is that he’s only 15—a sophomore in high school. When I was a sophomore, I barely had time for schoolwork, a social life, and extracurriculars. I certainly can’t imagine the added burden of organizing a sports tournament with over 100 athletes from seven universities and a group of postgraduates taking place on a college campus with EMTs and volunteers that engaged the local community. I guess what I’m trying to say is kudos to you, Jack; I’m impressed.

However, beyond that, Jack represents something more important. This is a 15-year old who has, for years now, been engaged and fascinated by quidditch. Jack is the type of person that the IQA and its associated national bodies need to reach and turn into fans of the sport. While I certainly wouldn’t expect many—if any—kids his age to be able to host a wildly successful tournament, to be able to take kids that are younger and younger and convert them into fans of the sport is a huge mission that the IQA needs to vociferously undertake. Quidditch has experienced tremendous growth on college campuses, but the more it can capture the hearts and minds of children, the more it will be able to grow beyond being just a niche sport. The younger fans and future players are brought in the more passionate about the sport they will become

Crisis in Arizona

One of the biggest tournaments this weekend was supposed to be the Third Annual Lumberjack Invitational, which saw World Cup-winning seeker Margo Aleman debut for Arizona Quidditch Club, the Los Angeles Gambits attempt to protect their undefeated record, and a number of teams that will challenge for a World Cup berth (University of Northern Colorado from the Southwest and Utah Crimson Elite, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University from the West, among others). While the gameplay was certainly interesting, I’ll leave those details to our West analysts to discuss. Instead, I want to take a moment to discuss the off-the-field happenings which overshadowed an otherwise interesting tournament.

To provide a bit of background before I jump on my soapbox: The tournament featured four head referees and four more individuals that had passed the written test, but not yet field tested. By the finals, two of the head referees had left, one was scheduled to play in the match and the other one of the finalists had clearly stated that they did not want him to referee. Of course there is more to the story regarding why the referees had left and why one team did not want to play with a particular referee officiating (and we will discuss later in the week); however, this means that the finals is either a forfeit or an unofficial game, which would render the entire tournament unofficial. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of people who volunteer a great deal of their time to promote quidditch and encourage it to flourish as a sport. I like to include myself among this bunch, as a writer who volunteers with USQ, but honestly, quidditch is and always should be primarily about the game. One of my colleagues in journalism, Ethan Sturm, feels very passionately about referees and I’m sure he’ll have much more to say on this. I look forward to reading those words, but I have remained silent on this front for too long. Players, you need to remember that referees and tournament organizers have devoted endless hours to what they’re doing. I know referees get paid, but it is not necessarily enough to compensate for the study and effort they put into their jobs. Please always respect them and treat them with the honor and dignity they deserve. Volunteering in any capacity for quidditch takes countless hours and is a sacrifice that individuals choose to make, whether they’re a Tournament Director, referee, or volunteer in any capacity. Four years ago, I suggested the concept of Division II out of fear that quidditch was becoming too competitive and losing its unique aspects—the Spirit of Saint Quidditch—and I shudder to think we may be going even further down this road. Many, myself included, value the community of quidditch, and while it is first and foremost a sport, if it loses the element that makes it uniquely quidditch, it will become a sport that is less attractive to many who already love it.

Now for you, USQ. I’ve volunteered for many years and have not felt comfortable commenting on the many inadequacies I’ve witnessed. Officially, I remain a volunteer, after all. But you have to remember that quidditch is first and foremost a game, and other initiatives should not get in the way of the sport being played. Many individuals far more knowledgeable about the issue have commented that we may be facing a referee crisis. Perhaps this situation wouldn’t have arisen if the four individuals who had passed the written test and were in attendance had the opportunity to field test. I invite USQ to address these issues publicly. Too often USQ’s solution to problem solving is to wait things out and hope that the problem goes away; that is not going to happen. Players that pay for membership deserve an answer and if there is a lack of confidence in USQ, it should address that head-on and explain its position to its constituents.

I’m neither a player nor a referee, so I’m not going to comment other than to say I trust those individuals who are knowledgable. If quidditch wants to be taken seriously as a sport, it can’t have a tournament during the season rendered potentially unofficial because of a dearth of referees. I know there have been issues this year already with finding officials, and to me this is very problematic. I don’t know enough to offer a concrete solution, but perhaps USQ should consider (if it’s not already) working with International Referee Development Program (IRDP). Alternatively, USQ may need to expend more resources on games. Tournament Director Certification seems to be a step in the right direction as far as ensuring the legitimacy of the sport, but at this point a potential referee shortage is unacceptable. 

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