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NIU students bring fictional pastime of Quidditch to life

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 5:29 a.m. CST

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DeKALB – Tamara Carlson admits it’s kind of nerdy.

However, that doesn’t stop her from getting together with a group of Northern Illinois University students each week to play Quidditch – a sports game lifted from the pages of the Harry Potter book series.

Carlson normally wouldn’t be found practicing for a sport in the field house. But for Quidditch, she makes an exception.

“I’m anti-sports,” Carlson, a senior, said during practice. “This is enough nerdiness to make it fun.”

Though the game was designed for wizards with magical powers, “muggles” have figured out a way to play, too. The game played at Hogwarts requires players to fly on brooms and seek out the elusive “golden snitch” to win the game. At NIU, Quidditch players do use brooms, only they run while holding one between their legs. That means players need the skills to catch and throw the “quaffle” and “bludger” balls using one hand.

The quaffle ball is about the size of a soccer ball and can be thrown through one of three hoops of varying heights to score points. A bludger ball is smaller and is meant for knocking players from their brooms.

The walnut-sized snitch – depicted in Harry Potter as a small gold ball that flies around seemingly with a mind of its own – is actually played by a person who runs around trying to escape the “seekers.” Seekers are after a small ball attached to the snitch’s waist, kind of like flag football.

“The people who created it really worked hard to make it as legitimate as they could,” said NIU freshman Micah Haji-Sheikh, who plays a beater position on the team.

The game requires a broad range of skills since it combines rugby, soccer, dodge ball, flag football and handball, said Bridget Hickey, the team’s president.

Hickey, a sophomore, started the Quidditch club second semester of last year. It started with about 12 people, and this semester it has drawn as many as 40 students to practices. She said she’s now working to make the team an official member of the International Quidditch Association, so NIU can compete against other universities. According to the IQA website, 319 schools have established Quidditch teams in the U.S., including 15 in Illinois.

Quidditch coach Amanda Liszewski makes sure players can keep up athletically, too. Practices start with laps around the track, quick sprints and passing drills. Players use one hand to catch balls, throw them into one of three hoops of varying heights to earn points or throw them at opposing players to knock them off their brooms.

“If you actually watch them play, it’s a lot of endurance-building,” Liszewski said.

Unlike most of NIU’s Quidditch players, Liszewski never has read a Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies. Anyone can enjoy the game, Hickey said, and that’s what’s so great about Quidditch. The game draws a crowd of people who maybe wouldn’t otherwise join a club or participate in a sport while in college, she said.

It’s a chaotic game that players – Harry Potter fans or not – can easily get lost in.

“It feels like you’re actually a Quidditch player,” Clabots said. “All we’d need to do is levitate.”

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