Get ready to see a lot of patterned scarves in town as Harry Potter fans converge on the Augusta area on March 2-3 to watch the first ever International Quidditch Association (IQA) Southern Regional Championship.
Fourteen collegiate and club teams from Florida to Tennessee will meet on the pitch at Riverview Park in North Augusta to compete for the chance to advance to the World Cup Quidditch Championships held next month in Kissimmee, Florida.
Don’t believe it’s for real? Check out Quidditch on YouTube and you’ll get a taste of what it’s all about, and what it’s all about is capturing the magic of the sport popularized by the Harry Potter books, only without the magic.
According to IQA Rulebook 6 — the most current version of the IQA rules — the muggle version of the sport is about as close as you can get to real Quidditch without flying broomsticks or magical snitches.
Don’t know what we’re talking about? Read the series or watch the movies and it won’t take you long to wish you had your own Nimbus 2000.
“The best way to describe it to the muggles is, it’s like water polo on a broom on a field,” says Brinsley Thigpen, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council, the organization that brought the championship to the Augusta area. “They’re throwing a ball with one hand and the broom has to be between their legs. Of course, they’re not flying, but they are running around with the broom and they’re tossing the ball.”
The fact that no one flies is admittedly disappointing, but even grounded, the fast-paced sport is interesting. It was adapted by students at Middlebury College in 2005 and has grown steadily ever since. Currently over 800 teams compete in 28 states.
And the snitch, that illusive winged ball of gold? In the muggle game, it’s a nonbiased participant dressed in yellow carrying a tennis ball inside a sock hanging from the back of his shorts.
It’ll make sense when you see it.
“What I love about it for Augusta and the reason I went after this event is because it’s obviously different, and there are hundreds of conversations going on around the city about it,” Thigpen says.
If you look at the videos or go to the IQA website, you’ll quickly discover that Quidditch is an extremely competitive sport, but people who might not participate in traditional sports are getting involved in a nontraditional way. The IQA mission talks about it being a creative sport, and one of its hallmarks is Title 9 ¾, a combination of real-life Title IX and the fictional train platform in the Harry Potter books.
Like their fictional counterparts, people of all genders play against each other.
“I feel like the Augusta Sports Council has the opportunity to help foster maybe a new league or something within the community with the excitement of this event,” Thigpen says.
Though she’s anxious for the tournament to grow interest in the sport, one of the things that tweaked her business sense was the fact that Augusta didn’t have a team of its own.
“From an economic standpoint, all 14 of those teams that are traveling — none of them are from here,” she says. “They’re all coming and staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants and it will have a great economic impact on our city, which is our mission. It’s having a positive economic impact and it’s embracing the quality of life for our citizens.”
Teams will be at Riverview Park from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, with a special “Kidditch” event for children from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday. There, participants will loan children their broomsticks and teach them how to play, and if it develops into a scrimmage… well, there could be worse things than a pickup game of Quidditch, couldn’t there?
“I really want people to come out and bring their kids for that, because again — that’s the type of sport your traditional athlete might not get involved in.”
As part of the IQA’s outreach and the marketing efforts of the GRU students assembled to help market the tournament, there will be a Quidditch on Ice performance between periods at Saturday’s RiverHawks game.
“I think that’s awesome that one of our more traditional sports is adopting this to support the sport and to highlight the event,” Thigpen says. “And I’m sure some of our visiting teams will go, and that’s another economic win for our city.”
Thigpen actually learned about Quidditch at a conference, where she met with the agency that markets the tournaments for the IQA. She came home, did a little research, and was impressed by what a good fit it seemed to be. She was also excited because she figured the novelty of it would bring some awareness to what the Sports Council does.
“We’re trying to better the quality of life and the economic wellbeing for the city of Augusta, and I knew this was something that would do that,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the largest golf tournament in the world, which I love because it encourages people to come to Augusta, but it can be Quidditch or it can be water polo or it can be adaptive swimming. We are out there working really hard to bring people to Augusta.”
That includes site visits, and though it would be fun to find out what a Quidditch player looks for in a host city, the IQA site visit was obviously successful.
“The representative from the IQA came and we drove them around and showed them all of what we have and now they love it so much they’re like, maybe one year we can have our World Cup here,” Thigpen says. “That’s thousands of Quidditchers. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but that’s what we’re doing is trying to sell our community.”
The long-term future of the sport is by no means secure, however. The first of the Harry Potter generation is now in college propelling the sport forward, but with the books and movies finished, it’s very likely that the Quidditch craze will fade away as quickly as it arrived. Still, why not take advantage of it while it’s here?
“I think we have at least several more years, and while it’s at its peak, why aren’t we taking advantage of it?” Thigpen says.
Having the attention of the city and the example of a few hundred participants dedicated enough to travel from places like the University of Miami, Tennessee Tech, the University of South Florida and Florida State could go a long way toward starting a team at GRU or maybe a youth league at the Family Y.
“Even though I might laugh when I talk about it, I’m really passionate about it,” Thigpen says. “I really think that, if we bring it here and one or two people get involved, that’s awesome.” You Might Also Like: