Why we play

“Why we play” is a feature in which Vassar athletes write about what their sports mean to them. This week, we highlight quidditch player Shannon Russo, pictured at left. Courtesy of Shannon Russo.

I went to Joss Beach on my second-ever Friday at Vassar, desperately in need of a few friends and a somewhat enjoyable way to exercise. I ended up finding a group of people I love endlessly and the wonderfully chaotic sport of quidditch. Although quidditch is run by an international federation, has referees and a rulebook and boasts over 500 teams in 25-plus countries, most people don’t understand how the sport works at all. To answer a few questions I get a lot: no, it’s not a roleplaying game; no, we don’t fly; and yes, you need to have a broom between your legs at all times, although most players use PVC pipes.

Essentially, quidditch is a full-contact, mixed gender sport with four different positions. Chasers score 10 points by throwing a volleyball (“quaffle”) through one of their opponent’s three hoops. Keepers defend their own hoops and assist in scoring. Beaters throw deflated dodgeballs (“bludgers”) at opponents, knocking them out temporarily. And seekers attempt to grab a tennis ball in a sock (“snitch”), which hangs off the back of a neutral athlete, in order to score 30 points and end the game. Now you understand why I describe quidditch as chaotic.

However, the chaos is only half the reason I play this sport. You need a strategic mind and a cool head to handle the four different games that all go on at once, intersecting and splitting apart in an unpredictable fashion. While athleticism is important, the game requires an extreme amount of mental energy as well. As a beater, I’m constantly thinking, Which

player should I knock out—the chaser with the ball or perhaps the seeker about to catch the snitch? Should I stay at our goals to protect us from a score or should I try to force a turnover? Should I throw the bludger to knock someone out and risk losing it?

I like having to make quick and important decisions in a game where no drive is ever the same. Each drive is a new battle, with different situations to consider and choices to make. And when you make the right decision, successfully knocking out a player just before they score or catch the snitch, you get a feeling I can’t really describe, but I absolutely love.

The chaos, along with the strategy it requires and the freshness it provides, is addictive. I think that’s why we practice so frequently (three days a week for two hours each), go to far away tournaments (in Vermont, Philadelphia and more) and accept the teasing from bemused relatives and peers (“So who plays Harry Potter?”). We just can’t get enough of the sport.

But beyond the chaos and the strategy, the reason why I play is my teammates. I love our late night talks about game strategy and life. I love the trips to tournaments, where we tell the kinds of jokes and stories that would only ever come out when you’re packed into a van for five hours straight. I love when we win, our group hugs filled with pride and excitement. I even love when we lose, because this team never forgets that the number one priority is to have fun together. While we’re competitive and always play at 100 percent, we don’t let ourselves get bogged down by win-loss records. After all, you can’t take yourself too seriously when you have a stick between your legs and play a sport created by a fantasy novelist.

After going to Joss Beach on my second-ever Friday at Vassar, the quidditch team (and Joss Beach itself) quickly became my home on campus. I received guidance from older teammates, always had people to sit with in the Deece and created friendships that will last beyond Vassar. It was my goal last year as a captain and continues to be this year as an upperclassman to make quidditch a home for any newcomers after me.

I play quidditch for the chaos, the adrenaline, the game-winning plays and the gut-wrenching losses. But most importantly, I play for my team: my friends and my family.

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