On many afternoons, Vassar students can expect a magical view behind Chicago Hall, as Vassar’s Quidditch team, the almost 30-player strong Butterbeer Brewers, mount their brooms on Joss beach and take to the pitch. With 15 other teams and an established Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA) recently formalized, the Brewers can look forward to another productive season.
Interestingly enough, the Butterbeer Brewers have an unique relationship with the IQA. Senior team captain and real life Oliver Wood, Nathaniel Nichols-Fleming explains “We’re not actually part of the league. In recent years, the IQA has become more dedicated to violent competitiveness instead of the friendly competition that Quidditch was founded on. Moreover, their more restrictive application of the gender rule has forced several teams out of the league including Smith College, one of our favorite teams. Instead, we host tournaments for our friend teams and they, in turn, invite us to their tournaments. Our biggest competition is probably Middlebury College. As the original Quidditch team, they used to dominate the World Cup every year until they left the IQA as well.”
By virtue of their close-knit team culture and their commitment to lightheartedness and sportsmanship, the Quidditch team has cultivated an excellent rapport with the community here at Vassar. The same reason that they object to the IQA is what Nichols-Fleming sees as something extremely valuable as well. He explained, “Our biggest strength is definitely our friendliness. Quidditch is all about having a good time and we want to have fun when we play in tournaments. We’re usually commended for our good sportsmanship. As a team, we’re basically one big friend group, which really helps us to work together in tournaments.”
The Butterbeer Brewers are truly all about friendliness as newcomers are always welcome. The team practices three times a week and is extremely welcoming towards new, unexperienced players. Luckily, entering their 2015 season, their recruiting efforts have been paying off. “Our prospects are looking good. We’ve nearly doubled the team with the number of freshmen that we’ve gotten, which had really rejuvenated our team,” said Nichols-Fleming.
Sophie Cash, a freshman member of the Butterbeer Brewers, has definitely felt the result of the team’s efforts saying, “The team is so supportive and wondering. One of my favorite moments was scoring my first point after a great pass a couple scrimmages ago, but even before that, the silly and collaborative feeling of the upperclasspeople, so willing to joke around with and give advice to us rooks, has made for a really positive first few weeks.”
It’s no wonder that Quidditch has seen such a positive turnout with first-years and upperclassmen alike–one of their greatest focuses is on their team chemistry. Many of their goals for this season are to cultivate an environment of cheerfulness and positive team culture. Nichols-Fleming recalls his most memorable moment of the season thus far, “My favorite memory is definitely the first practice that we had with the freshmen. We had almost 30 people that practice and the enthusiasm in that group was incredible. It was that practice where I realized how great it is to be captain, because I get to coach all these lovely, energetic people.”
Junior Miles Pucarelli also commented on the strength of Vassar’s squad. He explained, “Ouar team has always been very analytic. As chasers we work often on passing in formations to play to our strengths of precision and speed. We aren’t the biggest or most aggressive team, so we often score points with quick, calculated passes that put us in line with the hoop for an easy shot. As beaters and keepers, we have amazing communication and intuition about defensive strategy. We often keep teams far from snitch range (within 30 points) so that we can ensure an easy win… No matter how burly and big you are, a bludger hit stops you dead in your T-rex sized tracks.”
However their biggest concern still lies with numbers. “Our biggest weakness is that in recent years our membership has been diminishing. Even though we’ve had a great surge of new recruits this year, we have less returning players than ever. This means that most of our team is new to the game and has yet to play in a tournament. However I wouldn’t say that this is that big of a weakness; last practice we played a freshmen vs upperclassmen game and they managed to hold their ground and worked well as a team. I can’t wait to see how good they’ll be by the end of the year,” said Nichols-Fleming.
For those readers who may not know, the rules of collegiate Quidditch follow closely what the game resembles in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. The official rulebook was written in March 2008 by Alex Benepe, the student who took over as Middlebury Commissioner and would end up founding the IQA in 2007. The book, entitled Intercollegiate Quidditch Rules and Guidebook. While many rules are similar in spirit, some muggle adjustments include the replacement of the flying snitch with a cross country runner who is allowed to run or hide around the campus and must make an appearance on the field every ten minutes. The snitch must also run with a golden painted sock holding a tennis ball attached to the back of their shorts. The seeker’s goal is to find and catch the snitch and retrieve the ball to end the game.
The teams each consist of seven players and all members must run with broomsticks between their legs at all times. The pitch is set up with goals–a post with a hula-hoop attached to the top. The three chasers on either team pass the quaffle (a muggle volleyball) and try to throw it through the opponent’s hoops, which are guarded by a keeper. Finally, two beaters throw dodgeballs for bludgers at their opponents.
But, according to Nichols-Fleming, the most commonly asked question of Quidditch players is still, “do you actually use brooms? Or fly?”