Fans and mascots cheered in the bleachers.
Winded athletes chugged bottles of Gatorade on the sidelines.
And, referees on the artificial turf staunchly defended their penalty calls and yellow card flashes.
At first glance, this weekend’s tournament at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill looked similar to the slew of sporting events that have been held at the premier soccer facility just off Dave Lyle Boulevard.
But the Harry Potter-style “wands,” the brooms and the reference to “Muggles” gave it away. Saturday’s Quidditch tournament was anything but typical for Rock Hill as collegiate teams from around the Southeast battled it out on brooms.
Quidditch – a real-life version of the game played in the fictional Harry Potter book series – is a fast-growing sport with its own international organization.
The International Quidditch Association brought the 2014 Southern Regional tournament to Rock Hill after the city’s parks, recreation and tourism department bid on hosting the event and won.
Thirteen teams are competing this weekend for a chance to play in the Quidditch World Cup in April, held in North Myrtle Beach. Winthrop University’s Quidditch team had a “home field advantage” of sorts on Saturday, but lost in its first match to Eastern Florida State College.
Other schools represented this weekend include the University of Florida, Tennessee Tech University, College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina. Each team brought up to about 20 players.
Winthrop’s team is about five years old. They’ve already made two appearances in the Quidditch World Cup.
Team captain, 20-year-old Joey Galtelli, found Winthrop’s Quidditch squad after looking for a way to stay active after being a wrestler in high school. The team practices two or three times a week on campus, in front of Kinard Hall.
He started in Quidditch’s “snitch” position, which he describes as getting to “throw (down) people, who ride around on brooms.” For those who are new to the sport, Galtelli said, it’s often surprising how physical and sometimes rough Quidditch can be.
Quidditch is a co-ed sport featuring seven players from each team on the field. Borrowing some concepts from other sports such as rugby, dodge-ball and “tag,” Quidditch has one basic rule: players must be “on their broom” at all times.
The game’s chasers are similar to basketball’s small forwards: they help control the ball’s momentum, they must be quick and have a good chance at scoring. Quidditch’s beaters are the game’s defenders: they throw balls at the chasers and try to demobilize the opposing team’s best players and reduce their chance of scoring. The game’s keepers are responsible for defending their team’s goal, which is three hoops.
Quidditch’s snitch position is the only one for which a player is not on a broom. A seeker from each team tries to catch the snitch, who is a neutral player and cannot score for either team. The seeker who catches the snitch earns their team an extra 150 points.
Games usually last between 40 and 45 minutes. Quidditch has been played on every continent except Antarctica.
While its players and fans say it can be a “silly” sport, the competition is fierce once the brooms are up. And, those involved in the sport are die-hards.
Some members of Tennessee Tech’s team arrived at 4 a.m. Saturday after driving nearly eight hours to reach Rock Hill. Some of the team’s quidditch stars are also university football players.
Back on campus, the quidditch team is fairly well-known but some fellow students are still confused when they see the sport, said Brittany Wiggins, 21, from Tennessee Tech’s team.
While she was almost too shy to show up for her first practice, she said, once she joined the team, she was hooked.
Now, Wiggins said, “I like defending (Quidditch’s) honor.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068