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Minnesota Youth Embrace Quidditch

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(credit: Warner Bros.)

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BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) — Muggle students rejoice: Quidditch has come to Brainerd.

The fictional sport created by J.K. Rowling in the popular Harry Potter series has been played out in the gymnasium at Washington Educational Services Building over the last six weeks.

It’s all there, too. Chasers, Beaters, Keepers and Seekers; Quaffles, a Snitch, brooms and three goals a side, set a top posts.

The basics of Muggle Quidditch — as its played at Washington and at universities and high schools throughout the country and world as regulated by the International Quidditch Association — for the most part follow the details of the game laid out by Rowling: Chasers attempt to earn points by scoring goals, Beaters try to throw Chasers off course, Keepers try to stop the Chasers from scoring and Seekers attempt to catch the Snitch, ending the game.

But exceptions to Rowling’s creation abound in the real world. Obviously, there are no flying broomsticks in Muggle Quidditch, but all players must keep a broom between their legs during the game. And in Muggle Quidditch, the Snitch is an actual person who is free to move around on and off the playing field to avoid being caught by the Seekers. The Quaffle is represented by a deflated volleyball. Beaters use dodge balls against opposing players.

Play starts with each team lining up at opposing ends of the playing surface, which in Brainerd is the gymnasium at Washington Educational Services Building. The referee orders brooms down and for players to close their eyes so the Snitch can start running. After a countdown from 10, the game starts, with points counted for goals and the game ending when one of the two Seekers chases down the Snitch and yanks a flag out of his or her back pocket.

For those unfamiliar with Harry Potter, perhaps no amount of description could explain Quidditch, even after watching a live match. But for those in the know, Muggle Quidditch makes sense in its non-magical fashion.

Lisa Stawarski, Brainerd schools youth programs coordinator, said that since early February, Quidditch matches have been held twice a week at Washington between the Warriors and the Spartans. Stawarski described the game as a cross between dodge ball and rugby.

“What’s really cool about it is we get a very diverse group of people to play,” Stawarski said. “The two girls who started it would claim themselves as nerds, but we also have jocks coming in. It’s an active game. It’s challenging.”

The two girls — Alyssa Gregory and Amanda Johnson, ninth-grade students at Brainerd High School South Campus — got the idea to form Quidditch teams after seeing a news program about Quidditch teams being formed at universities.

Both described themselves as Harry Potter fanatics. Johnson has seen all the movies, but is just getting started on the books. Gregory said her mom used to read her Harry Potter books as bedtime stories. Now she has the audio books to fall asleep to.

“Which is pretty nerdy but I can’t fall asleep without them, usually,” Gregory said.

After partnering with Stawarski and Community Education to get the Quidditch program going, Johnson and Gregory put the word out using television, radio, fliers and even sticky notes. Most of the people they asked to join initially turned them down and only four people attended at first. On Wednesday, the last day of the Quidditch program until spring, more than 15 played.

Terri Henrikson, who works in the school district’s department of teaching and learning, helped Stawarski get the Quidditch program started. Now she’s a Quidditch coach.

“I came to watch, cheering the kids on, and next thing I know they’re telling me I’m hired as coach,” Henrikson said. “The kids are having a blast with this. They’re really enjoying themselves and they’re learning to work as a team now. They’re really having a lot of fun.”

Henrikson has read a few of the books and she enjoyed the movies.

“So I knew what I was getting myself into,” she said on her agreement to coach the program.

Stawarski said the Quidditch program at Washington will resume in April for ninth- through 12-graders, and there also will be a Quidditch program at Forestview Middle School for fifth- through eighth-graders.

Henrikson said there’s hope the program will be able to travel to other cities to play in Quidditch tournaments. Gregory and Johnson hope the program will keep its legs in the Brainerd School District.

“At least until we graduate and then we can play in college,” Johnson said.

By MATT ERICKSON
Brainerd Dispatch

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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