Blue Thestrals bring new meaning to ‘fantasy sports’
Clouds were beginning to creep overhead on the late summer afternoon and the air was heavy, humidity high, causing that uncomfortable sticky feeling—but the ritual continued.
Kneeling, heads down, eyes closed, headbands strapped on, one hand gripping the broomstick lying in the grass, the other ready for take off—Middle Tennessee State University students and alumni prepare to battle.
A short silence, anticipation builds. Brooms up!
Brooms advance across the field from both sides, moving closer to the opposing team. Straddling these brooms, of course, are the members of MTSU’s Quidditch team—the Blue Thestrals, at their weekly practice.
Most “muggles,” or those who fail to possess magical abilities, may know Quidditch only as the sporting event found within J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. But MTSU’s Blue Thestrals are an official part of the sport’s muggle division—otherwise known as the International Quidditch Association.
A “thestral” is a winged horse-like figure with a skeletal body and bat-like wings. This figure, from the book series, was chosen in keeping with MTSU’s school mascot—Lightning, a winged-horse.
Before beginning the actual practice game, the Blue Thestrals warmed up with jumping jacks, various stretches, ending with laps around the field as the humidity began to take its toll.
As the team filed back to the sidelines, a white Igloo cooler full of cold water became the main source of interest, as cups were filled and thirst quenched.
“It is really physical,” said MTSU sophomore and co-captain, Jake Sephton, 19. “I played football in high school, and this makes me almost as sore as football. You get hit so much.”
“Think rugby with broomsticks and dodgeballs,” said MTSU junior, Jessica South.
MTSU senior and team captain Amanda Triplett, 21, is to thank for bringing this unique sport to campus. The team first became an official part of the IQA in early 2011, and by April, the team was approved as a campus organization. By fall the games began.
The first rule of Quidditch is that broom has to be in between every player’s legs at all times. It is a semi-contact sport, co-ed and rather fast-paced.
There are two teams of seven, consisting of three “chasers,” two “beaters,” one “seeker” and one “keeper.” A chaser’s task is to get the “quaffle” (a semi-deflated volleyball) through the goal of the opposing team. They can run with it, pass or kick it in order to get it down the field and through the goal.
The goal consists of three hoops side by side each at a skinny pole and MTSU senior Bonnie McCabe serves as keeper, whose job is to block the “quaffle” from entering the goal of her team.
Each seeker tries to catch the “snitch,” and if captured, the game is automatically over. Fans of the series may wonder how the muggle players re-create the golden winged ball that zooms so quickly it is nearly invisible.
The Blue Thestrals’ snitch is from Vanderbilt University, and he shows up for games—he’s sort of the “state snitch,” they said. A snitch typically dons yellow garb, with a tennis ball attached to the back of his or her shorts—this, the seekers must obtain.
Caitlin Wade, an MTSU sophomore, serves as a beater—she uses dodgeballs, referred to as “bludgers” in the wizard world, to hit opponents.
“I normally seek behind them and hit them in the back,” said 20-year-old Caitlin.
“She likes to go for the face,” cackled teammate Josh Duggin in the background.
Duggin, an MTSU graduate who serves as a beater or chaser, is a rarity among the bunch. The 23-year-old graduate has not read the “Harry Potter” books.
“He is frowned upon in our society, “ said co-captain Jake with a chuckle.
Duggin has seen all the movies, though. Also, he has perhaps made up for this short-coming by tattooing the team’s crest on his leg. Duggin designed the crest one day and had it tattooed on himself the next.
Despite popular belief, Amanda, the captain, pointed out it is by no means a requirement to read the books or to see the movies. She said some universities’ Quidditch teams are comprised of guys who just want to play a new sport, but have not cracked open one book of the eight volume series.
Back on the field, Andrea Triplett, manager and mother of the captain, known as “Quid Mom” suddenly yells: “Time out! Tie shoe!”
MTSU graduate Andrew Owensby, is kneeled to the ground tying his white tennis shoe, sporting an orange USA Quidditch jersey with an American flag stamped on the chest. His broom handle matches his shirt, covered in tye-dye orange duct-tape. After a practice round, Owensby expressed the reactions he has received when telling others he plays Quidditch.
“[It] ranges from indifference to hostility,” said the 22-year-old matter-of-factly.
When the team used to practice on Bell Street, he said, “We’d often get people who pass by and yell random crap–people sayin’ ‘Harry Potter sucks.’”
The team doesn’t seem to get discouraged by people’s snide remarks or opinions, however.
“The entire team—we’re a collection of nerds, it’s amazing,” said 20-year-old Jessica with a giggle.
A “newbie” to the sport, MTSU freshman Sarek Futch, says he loves the sport after attending only one practice previously.
“It’s awesome. It’s adrenaline pumping,” said the 22-year-old enthusiastically after finishing up a practice round.
“I feel like I’m definitely going to be sore tomorrow, but its worth it.”
The team is set to play in the South Regional Tournament in Augusta, GA, in March. If they place high enough, the Thestrals will be eligible to participate in the 2013 Quidditch World Cup in Florida.
As of late, there has been discussion on whether Quidditch should be apart of the NCAA, but there seem to be mixed opinions. Triplett said that the sport’s officials don’t necessarily want the game to be seen as serious enough to merit induction.
“Like Alex Benepe (CEO of IQA) said, ‘You can’t be too serious when you’re running around with a broom in between your legs,” said Triplett.
“It’s just like any other regular sport. It is nerdy, but don’t diss it,” said MTSU sophomore Tyler Gibson.
The Thestrals’ first game of the season is October 21 at 1 p.m. against Belmont. The Quidditch team has bumper stickers, t-shirts for sale, and it is rumored that members of the team may acquire robes to sport at upcoming games. Updates on games and happenings of the Blue Thestrals can be found at Facebook.com/MTSUquidditch.
And if you hear “brooms up!” be prepared to watch the Thestrals in action.
~ Photo Credit: Nhu Duong