Everyone cringed on the sideline, as they watched Justin Cole’s face get trampled by a stampede of cleats. The referee rushed out onto the pitch, blowing his whistle in sporadic chirps, calling for a halt to the game. Picking himself off the ground, and relying on walking support from the sport medics, Cole revealed his bloody eye to the silent crowd.
This injury marked the beginning of a sequence of unfortunate events for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch team at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. They would experience three additional concussions, and the well below freezing temperatures of a northern winter, in following day and a half of the competition.
Why would 21 Carolina students endure these conditions for a sport based on the Harry Potter franchise? The answer differs from person to person, however, the following four stories share a common theme of playing because of the bonds formed with other teammates.
Sam Doughton: Beater and Chaser
Lounging on the sofa in his family’s living room, a teenage Sam Doughton watched “CBS Sunday Morning.” On the television screen, college students nationwide were shown riding white plastic pipes, or PVC pipes, and throwing a volleyball into hoops during fast-paced and contact-heavy Quidditch matches. It was this moment that Doughton said he became certain of two things: “I had to go to a college with a journalism school and a Quidditch team,” said Doughton. “So I applied to UNC.”
Four years later, Doughton weaved through the crowd at FallFest, UNC-Chapel Hill’s annual club and organizations fair.
“First thing that I did, [after] getting out of convocation, was walk straight to the Quidditch table,” said Doughton. “I really wanted to get involved. I just loved Harry Potter, and it seemed like the type of people that I would like to be around.”
Over his six semesters on the team, Doughton has played as a beater, using bludgers (deflated dodgeballs) to disrupt other players, and a chaser, using the quaffle (volleyball) to score points by throwing it through three hoops. In addition, he has also become a certified referee for U.S. Quidditch. This has allowed him to travel.
“The coolest thing about the Quidditch community, for me, is the opportunity to go to these other colleges, and meet people from across the country. Sometimes, there are players from all around the world,” said Doughton.
Louis Torres Tailfer: Beater
After coming to America, Louis Torres Tailfer, a “Star Wars” fan, was determined to trade in his lightsaber for a broomstick. However, what he did not expect was to fall in love during the process.
“I really like ‘Star Wars,’ but unfortunately, UNC doesn’t have a lightsaber dueling club,” said Tailfer. “Luckily, I found an equally nerdy, but challenging sport in Quidditch.”
As the lights dimmed on Hooker Fields, Tailfer felt a tap on his shoulder while leaving his first practice. Turning around, he found the shadowed figure of a blond woman that he had talked to during team introductions. She asked if he could walk her home, considering it was 11:30 p.m.
This moment of fate blossomed into a routine. After every practice, they walked home together. Often speaking as late as 4 a.m. on her dorm’s front steps, they learned they shared a lot of the same interests.
The only difference between them was that he lived in France, and she lived in America.
“I was not going to allow the distance to be a factor,” Tailfer said, “I was convinced we had met each other for a reason. I am a strong believer in the concepts of soulmates, and mine just happened to be halfway around the world at a Quidditch practice.”
Looking back, Tailfer said that meeting his girlfriend was the best thing to come out of being on the team.
Annie McDarris: Chaser
Annie McDarris joined the UNC-Chapel Hill Quidditch team to stay active, and as a joke. She anticipated a bunch of gawky students gabbing about Harry Potter in the middle of a field. If anything, she thought she would have a good laugh.
It did not take long however, for her to appreciate the athletic skill the game required and lifelong friendships she would make.
“It is a legitimate sport,” said McDarris. “We get tackled a lot. It is definitely intense being a girl, because you can get slammed to the ground by a 6-foot guy. Meanwhile, you are getting hit by bludgers.”
Thus, it comes as a great shock to her that she has not been severely injured yet. Regardless, she continues to play, because she has found a second family in her teammates.
“I feel like we are always there for each other. If someone posts that they need a ride to the airport, there will be like three responses offering to pick them up as early as 3 a.m,” said McDarris.
Though her classmates occasionally raise an eyebrow when McDarris tells them that she is heading off to Quidditch practice, she no longer finds herself laughing. Instead, she is confident to be a part of the sport that has a dash of magic, as she proudly mounts her PVC pipe with her closest friends.
Gabriella Williams: Beater
Gabriella Williams wrote her admissions essay for UNC-Chapel Hill about Harry Potter, so it comes as no surprise that she would want to play a sport based on her favorite novels.
However, Williams said that the appeal of being on a Quidditch team expands beyond simply playing the game. As a sociology major, Williams said she appreciated that it was co-ed sport that furthered gender equality.
“The Quidditch community, in general, strives for having team diversity. This really appealed to me,” Williams said.
In addition, Williams is on the executive board of the UNC-Chapel Hill Quidditch team. She claims that their biggest challenge is moving the sport away from just being an aspect of the Harry Potter franchise.
For example, actors from the films, such as Evanna Lynch (who plays Luna Lovegood), used to attend the World Cup. As appreciated as these appearances were, many were concerned that they were weakening the athletic credibility of Quidditch. Therefore, there have been efforts to reduce the number of such invitations to tournaments.
It is the end of the second day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, and the UNC-Chapel Hill team is waiting anxiously in the gravel parking lot next to the frost-covered fields. Sam Doughton said that despite their many losses due to injuries, they may still have a chance of making the 2018 World Cup in Round Rock, Texas.
All they needed was for one team to score a slightly less then they did, and they would make it in the lowest bracket.
Crushing the last bit of heat out of her hand-warming packets, Williams looked at her team sitting in the trunks of cars. Even if they returned without victory, she would be proud of them.
Suddenly, Cole, with his eye-patch, came over the hill. Doughton followed closely behind.
“Sam said we made it!” Cole said enthusiastically, “We barely did, but we made it! You crazy nerds are going to nationals in May!”
Edited by Liz Chen.