Photos by: Steve Mease

Editor’s note, October 28, 2020: This article and others in the history series will be updated to address the lack of diversity in the original text of Quidditch Turns Ten, as well as to more thoroughly discuss quidditch in the past 5 years. Each article will be reviewed and re-released for more inclusivity. Current and past quidditch community members will be invited to contribute to the updated articles, so that we can more accurately tell the story of the past 15 years and include voices that have been missing from the narrative. More information on how to get involved will be available soon. For questions, email info@usquidditch.org

“There was something about Alex Benepe and the others who were organizing this event that was special. In hindsight, it was really no surprise that he would take the idea, run with it, and make it something real and important in so many people’s lives.”

Steven Mease

Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe were floormates. Early in their freshman year in 2005, Xander started a tradition of Sunday afternoon bocce on the field outside their dorm. But one day he suggested they play something different: quidditch.

Alex was skeptical. The sport from the Harry Potter books was complicated, and he didn’t see how it could be translated into real life.

“I know it sounds weird,” Xander said, “but this is how it would work…”

Looking back on it later, Alex couldn’t remember when the idea clicked for him, but he spent the day before the game persuading other people to come and making make a costume: cardboard arm guards painted to look like the uniforms from the Harry Potter movies, a “cloak” made from a sweatshirt with a blanket pinned to the bottom, and Doc Martens. “If you wear a costume to something you instantly have more fun, no matter what it is,” Alex said.

On Sunday afternoon, two dozen freshmen met to try it out. Fourteen brooms, rejects from the broomball team, lay on the grass beside them. One kid thought it was BYOB—bring your own broom—and, unable to find one, brought a floor lamp.

Xander explained the rules. Each team had seven players—three chasers, who scored with the quaffle, a slightly deflated volleyball; one keeper, who guarded the goals; two beaters, who threw dodgeballs at the opposing team; and one seeker, who tried to catch the snitch, a cross country runner with a wrestling background named Rainey, who stuffed a tennis ball in a sock into the waistband of his shorts. When a seeker caught the sock, the game was over.

Xander was not the first to attempt to adapt quidditch for the non-magical world. But no other version has become as widespread. There are two reasons for this: Xander’s rules worked, and Alex knew how to get media attention. By the end of the school year, Middlebury had ten intramural quidditch teams.

Photo by: Steve Mease

Each team in the World Cup was required to enter the field with a cheer, and the Middlebury intramural team Prisoners of Azkaban yelled “jailbreak!” and ran in different directions.

Photo by: Steve Mease

The next year, Alex took over organizing quidditch from Xander. Only ten people showed up to the first practice— not enough to field two full teams. “I went into the nearest dorm and started grabbing random people to play,” Alex said. “And except for one guy who didn’t want to stop playing Final Fantasy, there was a lot of interest. We got enough people, and after the first game, everyone loved it. It was enough to keep the sport going.”

Quidditch was denied club status by the Middlebury student council, but at the beginning of the 2007 school year, Alex set up a guerilla booth at the club fair anyway. Quidditch had been featured in the Wall Street Journal, and it generated a lot of buzz among incoming students. Three hundred people signed up to play or get more information, and Alex raised $7,000 selling them Middlebury Quidditch t-shirts.

Wall Street Journal Article, Part 1

Wall Street Journal Article, Part 2

“I told everyone who ordered shirts that they could pick them up in my dorm room,” Alex said. “But the shipment was late, and one morning my roommate called me and said there was a line of 100 people in the hallway outside our room, waiting to buy shirts. I led everyone to the mail center, got the boxes, and sold 200 shirts for cash right there.”

In the Harry Potter books, the World Cup is more than a championship tournament: it’s a festival. “I wanted to do that,” Alex said. With the help of his budding team leadership, he created his own version of a World Cup festival, inviting student bands to perform, bringing in food trucks, and creating event merchandise. Each of Middlebury’s 12 intramural teams got a $50 stipend to create uniforms and banners, and Alex invited Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York to attend.

USA Today covered the tournament and wrote a story called “Collegiate Quidditch takes off,” and in the next few weeks dozens of college students around the country emailed Alex asking how to start a team.

“At that point, we thought we should start writing the rules down,” Alex said.“We emailed a rulebook attachment to everyone who was interested and saved those names on a spreadsheet. It was the birth of an informal league.”

“My vision is to get a couple vanloads of Middlebury players, all of the necessary equipment and snitch runners, and travel to four to five colleges in the Northeast and get some games going.” So Alex was quoted in the USA Today article. “The idea had sort of been floated around,” Alex said, “but once it appeared in print we figured we should do it.”

MTVu put out a call for unique spring breaks, and Alex submitted the idea of a quidditch road trip. MTVu loved it. So in April 2008, Alex and seventeen quidditch players piled into two rented school vans and visited Bard College, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Vassar, and Amherst College to introduce the game and set up demo matches.The trip was also covered by ESPN and CBS. “At that point, 60 schools had already contacted us about starting teams,” Alex said. “After the trip we were up to 180.”

Over the next two years, Alex invited the growing list of forming teams to the annual Quidditch World Cup tournament each November. In 2008, 12 teams attended from as far away as Quebec, Louisiana, and Washington State. In 2009, the number grew to 22 teams. Those early competitors included Amherst College, Boston University, Chestnut Hill College, Emerson College, Green Mountain College, Harvard, Ives Pond Club Team, Lafayette University, Louisiana State University, McGill University, Miami of Ohio, Moravian College, Princeton, Q.C. Pittsburgh, Syracuse University, Texas A&M, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Washington, University of Vermont, Vassar College, Villanova University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Yale.

From Katie Stack

Photo by: Ryan Kellett

“I brought the Boston University Quidditch team to the Intercollegiate Quidditch Cup II in Middlebury, Vermont. After a long Thursday night of spray painting black numbers on red blocks of fabric and hot gluing fasteners to the front to make capes, we squeezed all nine of us into my mother’s suburban. The drive seemed endless as I navigated through the thick fog and the winding mountainous ‘highways’ of Vermont, entertained by dementor jokes that resulted in an embarrassingly real fear. We did eventually make it to the tournament, and I still remember that weekend as one of the most magical of my life.”

From Justin Bogart

Photo by: Steve Mease

I grew up reading Harry Potter, so when I first got to Middlebury College in 2006 and heard they played quidditch, I knew I had to witness it for myself. It was all new back then. There were no other teams playing and no way to look it up on YouTube. All I knew was that I had to bring my own ‘cape.’ So I grabbed one of my towels, tied it around my neck, and walked out onto Battell Beach. That was the beginning of something special. I instantly fell in love with it and from that moment on, Sunday became quidditch day. ”

Steve Mease, the public information and news director at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, was one of the first photographers drawn to quidditch.

“My son, Noah Mease, was a first-year student at Middlebury and had been a huge Harry Potter fan growing up,” Mease said. “I have been an event photographer for a long time—working at newspapers as a writer and editor, and freelancing photo jobs.

“The fun and newness of quidditch was irresistible. College kids out having fun, wearing towels for capes, playing a game that involved throwing balls, weird rules and snitches. It was too much fun to not photograph.”

Photos above by: Steve Mease, from the 2008 and 2009 World Cups

Steve attended the first three World Cups at Middlebury and captured many of the photos in part I of this book.

For Steve, it’s hard to choose a favorite quidditch experience. “There were quite a few: the between-match entertainers—jugglers, professors throwing fireballs, and the acapella group singing Harry Potter songs.The pageantry of the teams parade onto the pitch while the bells of Middlebury played the Harry Potter theme is another strong image and fond memory. The improvised game patter from the commentators never failed to amuse me and I can’t think of anyplace else that would have been better on a crisp fall afternoon in Vermont. But perhaps one of the favorite moments when when I found myself right in the middle of a huge circle of quidditch players as the winning team was presented the makeshift gold trophy and I caught the moment with a wide-angle lens.”

From Michelle Cantos

Photo by: Steve Mease

“Back in World Cup I, there were no rules for takedowns and fouls. The Cup was messy and incredibly fun. Middlebury was excited that quidditch was spreading to other schools and Vassar was thrilled to play a proper quidditch team. Despite our competitive nature, both teams were secretly elated to find others who shared their passion for Harry Potter.

Between World Cups I and II, quidditch teams sprang up at colleges throughout the Northeast. With this growth came changes to the Cup itself: the crowds got bigger, more fields were added, and additional commentators were pulled from improv troupes. One of the commentators at World Cup II was somewhat bitter that Vassar College rejected his application; that made for interesting coverage.

Though the World Cup endured changes, Middlebury’s hospitality and enthusiasm for this great spectacle remained constant. As the competition pool increased, so did our new circle of friends from differ- ent schools who loved Harry & co. as much as we did.

“By the time World Cup III rolled around in 2009, the tournament expanded further as the sport spread southward and teams from Virginia Commonwealth University and Texas A&M joined our ranks. The Cup now had opening and closing ceremonies (and if memory serves me right the closing ceremony involved unicyclists playing bagpipes).

“I can’t remember much about the actual matches or who won or lost at these tournaments. What I do remember is Middlebury students offering their common rooms to entire teams so we could spend the night, and hanging out with other players as we waited for our turn on the pitch.

“Over a decade ago we never kept track of statistics or rankings. We played because we loved the Harry Potter series and found an outlet to channel that enthusiasm. The early World Cups in Vermont were an opportunity to find people from other schools who shared our levels of passion for quidditch and the Harry Potter fandom.”

Quidditch Turns Ten Coffee Table Book

This limited edition, commemorative coffee table book chronicles the rise of quidditch from the perspective of the organizers, players, and photographers who have shaped the sport into what it is today. Quidditch Turns Ten is a hardcover, 10x13 inch 124-page full-color book, with gold foil on the cover and thick interior pages.