Pitt's newest team rides broomsticks to victory.
Written by Peter Kusnic
On a muddy lawn between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel, 16 Pitt students stand at attention with broomsticks between their legs. “Go!” shouts the captain, and the players storm the muddy field. Bodies and broomsticks clash. The captain—distinguished by his colorful bandana—scoops up a pink volleyball, known as a quaffle. An opposing player, black dodge ball in hand, chases him toward the goal. She hurls the ball, which strikes him. He drops the quaffle. Before he can re-enter the game, he laps the field, galloping like a horse on his broomstick. Meanwhile, another player with mud-splattered calves intercepts the quaffle and shoots it through a lollipop goal! A wedding party outside the chapel snaps photos of the frenzy. A woman wonders out loud, “What is this?”
The students are playing what Harry Potter aficionados know as the sport of quidditch. But unlike the wizards and witches of Hogwarts, the Pitt team lacks one fundamental component—magic. Though the broomsticks don’t fly, a human version of the fictional sport has become popular on college campuses nationwide. More than 200 institutions have formed quidditch teams and joined the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA), founded a few years ago at Middlebury College in Vermont.
The captain of Pitt’s team, John Battaglia, started playing quidditch in high school after he and some friends discovered online videos of game play and the IQA’s official rule book. Battaglia, a sophomore majoring in business as well as politics and philosophy, was hooked by both the athleticism and ridiculousness of the sport, a hybrid of handball, dodge ball, and literature come to life. Last spring, he discovered other quidditch enthusiasts—this time at Pitt. They built a team by recruiting friends, Potter fans, athletes, and curious onlookers. They also bought PVC pipes and duct tape to build the circular lollipop goals through which players throw the quaffle to score. Now, they spend Sunday afternoons on the lawn, running drills, practicing aim, inventing strategies, and mystifying passersby.
This past fall, Battaglia’s battalion headed to “quidditch country,” where they competed against more than 20 teams in the 2009 IQA World Cup at Middlebury. Caped entertainers juggled flaming batons and chanted spells while 500 spectators watched Pitt land in the Final Four, the only first-year team to do so.
“Everyone seemed to love us because we were the underdogs,” says Battaglia. “We couldn’t believe we made it that far.” Perhaps it just took a little bit of magic.
Photograph by Tom Altany