HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Once considered a fictional sport, J.K. Rowling’s wizarding game of quidditch has become a sporting reality for athletes on college campuses and communities around the world.
The University of Southern Mississippi is among them.
USM Quidditch founder Nicolas Kubicki said bringing the multi-faceted sport to the Hattiesburg campus has been a whirlwind of practices as the team — the only one in Mississippi recognized by the International Quidditch Association — has found success during its first two seasons. The team’s third season recently got underway.
However, Kubicki, a junior psychology major and the team president, said the reality of quidditch is something that still catches teammates and spectators off guard.
“A lot of people hear someone say, ‘I started a quidditch team,’ and they think LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), but when they see it played in real life, they see that this is actually a sport.”
Quidditch involves elements of various sports: football, cross-country running, basketball, dodge-ball, flag football, and hide and seek.
Philosophy major Brendon Frisella said he didn’t take the idea of quidditch seriously until he experienced it firsthand 2 1/2 years ago.
“It was really surprising because it wasn’t something I was expecting,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to see a sport. I was expecting to come out and tackle a bunch of nerds.”
Frisella and Kubicki were members of the first team that represented USM in two tournaments in spring 2011.
“Obviously, we didn’t do really well, but that kind of cemented us in people’s minds,” Kubicki said.
However, last year the quidditch team made it to the IQA World Cup — an experience Kubicki said he’ll never forget.
Playing against fast-made rivals the University of South Florida for a position at the World Cup, Kubicki said he and his fellow teammates were in for a match that came down to the wire.
“It was like a dream,” he said. “… They expected to wipe us off the field, but we turned out an amazing offense and defense. (Our strategy) really pulled everything to a standstill and brought the game within a snitch range and Brandon, our seeker, pulled it and won it for us. We were crying because that was, in effect, our moment. We were going to World Cup in our second year.”
Anna Hotard, team captain and secretary, joined the team last year. Out of all intramural sports available to play at USM, she chose quidditch because of the uniqueness of the game.
“I was going to do intramural soccer as well because I played soccer for years, and then I came out to the first clinic practice and realized that I couldn’t do both sports,” she said. “So, I decided to do this one because this is a lot more fun and competitive, and it’s very different.”
Hotard said approaching the game of quidditch is all about attitude.
“You’ve got to come out here thinking, ‘It’s not just going to be a bunch of nerds role playing,’” she said. “It’s an actual physical sport. I’d say it’s one of the most serious sports out there compared to other various sports. . It’s difficult, but it’s also the most fun.”
Kyle Carpenter, quidditch team captain and treasurer, said there is a sort of magic in playing a full-contact sport that involves so many aspects of other sports.
“I came out to a practice and found this sport to be fascinating,” he said. “It’s so complex. It really suited me — both the physical aspects and the thinking parts. It’s not an easy sport, either way. It’s definitely one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done.”
Carpenter said quidditch is a mix of some of his favorite individual sports played in a team setting all year.
“It’s got cross-country when you throw the snitch in there, which is mainly what I do,” he said. “I seek, and I’m running after the snitch who is throwing me and trying to wrestle me to the ground. Then you’ve got basketball thrown in with the hoops because you’re doing the alley-oops and quick passes. Then, you have football because you’re doing defensive lines and doing zones. It’s a lot of man-on-man, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Being one of a few co-ed team sports at USM, quidditch isn’t just “man-on-man.”
Coming back from her first World Cup experience this year, Hotard, a sophomore English-communication double major, said she’ll be seeing a lot of playing time this year as one of the three females on the team.
“We’re in high demand for females because the gender is that you have to have two players of the opposite gender play,” she said. “That means that we’re going to be playing the majority of the game. We want the athletes to come join us. It’s a sport that you’ve never played before, but you will use every skill you’ve ever learned. And it is co-ed, and we do travel and meet a lot of really great people.”
In his role as the team’s seeker, Frisella said there are times he and the opposing team’s seeker leave the pitch to look for a hiding snitch runner.
“When you’re searching for the snitch you’re looking in every hiding place they could possibly be,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s hide-and-go-seek, cross-country, wrestling — everything in one.”
Frisella said USM Quidditch stands out among other university club sports.
“We’re actually one of the few club sports that goes out and travels,” he said. “Last year, we went to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. We’ve gone to seven different states. . I’ve got friends all over the South and Southwest — and even in the Mid-Atlantic — that I can call up and hang out with just through quidditch.”
Serving as the club’s vice president and a team captain, Frisella said he wishes the university would consider backing this year’s team more than it has in years past.
“Because we’re traveling so much, I would like it if we had a little more support for how much we are representing our school,” he said.
Although the team didn’t place, Carpenter said last year’s World Cup experience was eye-opening, and he hopes each practice this season brings the team closer to the same opportunity this year.
“It was really interesting and cool in a lot of ways. It was one of our big goals to get there, but part of it was getting there and recognizing how much further we had to go to be a good team,” Carpenter said. “We’re a good team, but we could be a great team.”
The USM Quidditch Team’s next competition is Oct. 19 in New Orleans.