I’ll admit, when I first saw a group of nerds playing quidditch on Memorial Glade, I let out a conceited snicker.
“I might be a loser, but at least I’m not playing quidditch in the park,” I said (this, mind you, from the guy who writes about esports and hasn’t been to the gym since the Eisenhower administration). Passers-by shared my sentiment, Snapping and Instagramming while laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
“How dumb,” chuckled one spectator, donning a tweed jacket, a copy of Plato’s “Republic” and an “I only drink expensive Bordeaux” attitude. How dumb, indeed, I thought.
Nevertheless, I decided one Tuesday afternoon that I would attend a quidditch practice. Partially because my curiosity overcame my penchant for persnicketiness and partially because I was running out of column pitches (turns out no one was interested in my top 10 sexiest sports mustaches list). So after exchanging a few DMs with members of the team I found myself smack dab in the middle of Memorial Glade with a stick between my legs and a volleyball in my hand.
Before I arrived, I half expected to see people in wizard robes toting wands, spellbooks and poorly written fan fiction. After all, they were, in my mind, glorified live-action role players who were blissfully unaware of the embarrassment of it all. They weren’t cool. Basketball players, football players — those are the winners. Quidditch? I scoffed at the idea that this could even be competitive, let alone an actual sport.
In case you aren’t getting it by my use of the past tense or the self-deprecating humor, I was completely, totally, entirely, thoroughly and utterly f—— wrong about quidditch.
It is competitive. These players are athletes. And it is a sport. Period.
This realization was of course the byproduct of my participation in their practice, which can best be summed up by analogizing me not to Harry Potter, but to Neville Longbottom (And not the hot version of Neville — I’m talking chubby cheeks, broken wrist, bullied by Slytherin Longbottom). I was huffing and Hufflepuffing from the very first throw of the quaffle, and it wasn’t long before I was desperately looking for an oxygen cauldron. If this was a tryout, I wasn’t making the team for Gryffindor, let alone playing amateur intramurals.
But what struck me most about quidditch was not my inability to play the game (which, in fairness, is true about almost every athletic endeavor), but just how much it resembled traditional sports. The sheer amount of dexterity required to balance broom and ball is not unlike dribbling a basketball. Just as Jon Gruden discusses “Spider 2 Y Banana” on Monday nights, captains shout out routes like “Deep Hook” and “Banana Side Step.” And just like athletes in the gym root on and joke with their teammates, quidditch players cheer and say things like “Take it to the hole” or “I’d score if that hoop was regulation size.”
I didn’t just eat a slice of humble pie that day — I ate the whole damn cake. And while I was lucky enough to stumble into this community and see firsthand how amazing quidditch is, others won’t ever give it a chance. They’ll continue to condescend, ogle and laugh as they pass from one class to another.
Yet what makes quidditch great, beyond the play that’s conjured on the pitch, is that the players truly don’t care what you, I or anyone else might think.
“I was never embarrassed,” said Cal Quidditch co-captain Dara Gaeuman. “You just got to own it.”
That’s the most magical thing about quidditch. It’s not just that the sport is skill-based and competitive, because it undoubtedly is. It’s more than that. It’s a powerful reminder of the beauty of nerddom. That to be a nerd isn’t to be a loser — it’s to be someone who enthusiastically and unironically embraces their passions. Quidditch acts as more than just a sport; it serves as a meeting ground for a community of proud individuals united by friendship, competition and their love for the game.
When asked what makes Cal Quidditch so spellbinding, Gaeuman said, “It’s the people. It’s the people that keep you here.”
Cal Quidditch will host the California Classic on Oct. 26 at Hearst North Field.