Harry Potter mania on The Hill

Quidditch tournament players rush to the other end of the field before the game. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)
Quidditch tournament players rush to the other end of the field before the game. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 15, 2011

As the 20-somethings nursed their post-Harry Potter feelings of emptiness with Butterbeer rum concoctions at McNally's tavern on Germantown Avenue, a more brutal form of Harry Potter-opothy was playing out further up the hill.

"It's all about the physical contact," said Olga Iodko, 22, of the SUNY Geneseo Quidditch team, one of 15 quidditch teams competing - broomsticks between legs - in Saturday's second annual Brotherly Love Quidditch Tournament at Chestnut Hill College.

"One of the concussions happened because someone took a broom between the eyes," Catilin Hepps Keeney, 19, of the John Hopkins team, recalled from an earlier competition.

Nearly the entire business district of Chestnut Hill was transformed into a Hogsmeade Village of wands, Leaky Cauldrons, capes, dark arts and a really intense orange-eyed Owl posing as Hedwig, drawing Harry Potter fans of all ages. But the really intense action was definitely at the quidditch pitch on campus.

"I had her pinned," said Billy Greco, 20, a junior at Villanova and his team's "Seeker" - the player who goes after a snitch ball - referring to how he captured the "snitch" from "snitch runner" in a match against Penn State.

The rule book for Quidditch, which is played in six of the seven Harry Potter books, runs to nearly 50 pages and spells out roles for chasers, beaters and keepers, as well as seekers and snitch runners.

The game is adapted from its wizardly origins for non-flying muggles: The hoops are elevated with poles (They hover in the books).

"Quidditch has a lot of sportsmanship," noted Audrey Zeldin, 19, of Johns Hopkins, who wore protective goggles. "If you do something, you have to punish yourself."

Points are scored by passing the quaffle (a volleyball) through hoops. Bludgers (dodge balls) are used by beaters to knock out chasers, who then must simulate being knocked off their broomsticks by running the length of the pitch.

Got it, muggles?

By mid-afternoon, winded snitches were shaking off encounters with seekers. Meanwhile, beaters were a bit wild-eyed.

Several Hopkins team members sported "deathly hallows symbol" tattoos, which may have made their moms sorry they'd ever read the books to them in the first place.

"Tattooed members aside, we're evenly split between who's in this for Harry Potter and who's in this for sport," said Brandon Epstein, 19.

Last year at the Brotherly Love tournament, Villanova's Greco famously watched a snitch-runner climb into a pickup truck and drive off, instantly entering muggle Quidditch legend.

Another time, Greco said, the snitch-runner led him up the bleachers. "I was following with a broomstick and jumped off," he recalled. "I was flying for a minute. I thought, 'I'm Harry Potter; I hope I don't break an ankle.' "

The students have become enthralled with their new sport, which has achieved club sport status at some colleges.

Chestnut Hill College, a rather Hogwarts-esque backdrop and a particular hotbed of Quidditch fervor, fielded four of its own teams. The school's Slytherin Team beat Penn State's Three Broomsticks in the final, 110-40.

"Quidditch bridges the gap between jocks and nerds," said Alex Benepe, who, while Mark Zuckerberg was coming up with Facebook at Harvard, created Muggle Quidditch with his friend Xander Manshel at Middlebury College.

Benepe said there are 300 teams. "Now, people are getting into college with Quidditch," he said. "Hundreds of application essays have been written on Quidditch."

The World Cup - the climax of the fall Quidditch season - will be held on Randall's Island on Nov. 12 and 13. "It's a cross between rugby, handball and dodgeball," said Rob Terreri, of Geneseo.

Off the field in Chestnut Hill, where the festivities continue Sunday, cape and scarfs and round glasses were the order of the day. The Harry Potter Pub Crawl on Friday night sold out its 200 shirts and was considered a rousing success. Harry Potter fans, it seems, do not grow out of it.

Dawn Karpoff, of Baltimore - a fan of the intense rivalry between Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland - traveled to Philadelphia as a spectator.

"Quidditch is the cure for post-Potter depression," she said.


Contact Staff Writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or arosenberg@phillynews.com and on twitter @amysrosenberg.

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