The game of fictional Hogwarts takes on a new form as a fast-growing club sport

Jarway Yu, center, the coach for the Nearly Headless Knights, is taking the team to the next level. 

"I watched a small, ragtag team turn into dedicated, skilled athletes. Last year, we had an influx of freshman and sophomores, including a lot of return members."
Jarwway Yu, Coach  

The world of Harry Potter is filled with magic, where recreational fun means flying on a broomstick and playing a game of quidditch. But playing quidditch with the Rutgers team means less magic and a lot more intensity.

“It’s full contact, very physical,” said Phill Cain, a Rutgers sophomore and a Harry Potter fan who joined the team his freshman year.  “The sport requires focus and agility.”

Quidditch became an official club sport at the university in 2012. Since its start, the Rutgers team, known as the Nearly Headless Knights, has grown in size and become more competitive.

Since quidditch started at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005, the game has become an international phenomenon. More than 300 teams from 20 countries are part of the International Quidditch Association. US Quidditch, a nonprofit league founded in 2010, of which Rutgers is a member, hosts about 25 events a year teams within the United States.

Quidditch, which combines aspects of rugby, flag football, soccer and tag, has morphed from its fictional Hogwarts roots.The broomsticks have turned into lighter PVC pipes, flying balls into deflated dodgeballs (bludgers) and volleyballs (quaffles).

Each team is made up of seven players, three chasers, two beaters, one keeper and one seeker. The goal is to score as many points as possible before the end of the game, which usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes. Seekers try to catch “the snitch,” who is dressed in all yellow with a flag or sock hanging from his or her pants and worth 30 points, so if the seeker succeeds, the game stops.

And there are lots of rules: The 169-page U.S. quidditch rule book is in its eighth edition.    

Jawray Yu, the team’s coach for the past two years, got involved with quidditch as an undergraduate at Rutgers before it was a club sport. The club formed just as he graduated in 2012, and the following year he returned as the coach while pursuing a master’s degree in the School of Management and Labor Relations.

For Yu, a game that started off as a curiosity soon became a passion. “I watched a small, ragtag team turn into dedicated, skilled athletes. Last year, we had an influx of freshman and sophomores, including a lot of returning members,” Yu said.

This year, the team has enough players to allow for a second roster. The A squad, Yu said, is the official competitive team with US Quidditch, which has a roster of 21. The B squad has 10 to 15 members and less formal, pick-up practices. The players practice as a combined team three times a week.

Cain, who plays as both chaser and seeker, hopes to take his team to the World Cup and become involved with the sport on a professional international stage. Born in Brazil, he came to the United States in 2003 and returns often to see family and friends. After discovering quidditch at Rutgers, Cain found out about a quidditch team in his home city of São Paulo. He contacted the team last summer to participate in one of their practices.

“Meeting them was an incredible opportunity. It gave me a new perspective on how international teams are forming and the challenges they face,” Cain said. “Today, there are five teams in Brazil. My dream is to help unite them and someday form a national team to compete in the next global games.“

In addition to its competitive nature, the sensibilities of the game stress the role of community and inclusiveness. The quidditch rule book enforces the game’s co-ed aspect by stipulating that a team cannot have more than four people who identify as the same gender playing at once. The rules also recognizes transgender players, stating the gender that the player identifies as does not have to match the sex of the player.

Kristin Lawton, a sophomore nutritional sciences major, is a huge Harry Potter fan and one of the 13 women on the Nearly Headless Knights team.  She learned about quidditch from her older brother, who played at Emerson College.

“My requirement when I applied to college is that the school have both a marching band and a quidditch team,” said Lawton, one of the team’s chasers. “Luckily Rutgers had both.”