Some 300 athletes will converge in Roseville this weekend to bring a fictional game to life as they compete in the International Quidditch Association's Western Cup at Maidu Park.
Wait. You lost me at "quidditch." Isn't that the game in the Harry Potter books and movies that is played on flying brooms?
Well, the players use brooms. They just don't fly, unless you call running with a broom between your legs flying.
How does a fictional game dreamed up by author J.K. Rowling become a sport?
The short answer is that in 2005 some students at Vermont's Middlebury College gathered up some brooms, a slightly deflated volleyball and a dodgeball and had at it.
So, other than running around with a broom between their legs, how do they play this game?
OK, chasers score points by throwing the volleyball (quaffle) through a hoop, guarded by a keeper. Beaters use the dodgeball (bludger) to knock chasers off their brooms.
But what about that flying ball Harry Potter went after?
Yeah, how do they recreate the snitch?
It's a bit of a re-imagining. They put a tennis ball in a sock and stuff it in the back of a runner's shorts and the seekers chase him or her after a head start.
Tell me more about quidditch and this weekend's tournament.
While the co-ed full-contact sport has grown to more than 800 teams internationally – even as players seek to suppress their friends' snickering – it is not without internal tension.
There are some who believe that Harry Potter, Hermione and "he who must not be named" should be left on the sideline as the game matures, said Alexis Bristor, the Western regional director of the Quidditch Association.
"We are trying to get this thing taken seriously," Bristor said.
The sorting hat would have a hard time with Bristor. She's the founder of the hard-hitting Arizona State University team, speaks of her quidditch injuries with a bit of fondness (she took a broom to the nose) and grew up playing sports. But she's a big Harry Potter fan and acknowledges the game's roots.
"We take it very seriously, but at the end of the day we're all friends running around with brooms between our legs," she said.
Some players are drawn to the sport's eclectic mix of field hockey, dodgeball and full-contact hide-and-seek, while others are drawn to playing out a childhood fantasy, Bristor said.
"For the most part, the hard-core Harry Potter nerds are not the best quidditch players," said Bristor, who is organizing the weekend tournament.
One of those Harry Potter nerds is Becky Wangberg, who attended American River College before transferring to Chapman College in Orange County.
"I got involved because I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and I always thought quidditch was the coolest thing," Wangberg said via email before beginning the drive up from West Hollywood, where she's co-captain of the Hollywood Harpies.
While she says there are people on her team who never read the books or watched the movies (gasp), she said separating the game from the boy wizard would be a shame.
"If it wasn't for Harry Potter quidditch wouldn't exist," Wangberg said. "Not that I think everyone who plays quidditch has to be a complete Harry Potter nerd," she added.
By some accounts the brooms are what set the sport apart. "Without the broom you are just playing your average sport," Bristor said. "With the broom, you are doing everything one-handed."
But even the role of the nonflying broom is being challenged. Players must hold a broom between their legs while in the field of play. And in competition both teams must use the same model, to keep one team from gaining an an unfair advantage by using a lighter or shorter broom.
Wangberg said she is "slightly OK" with using simulated brooms made from PVC pipes, but would hate to see the brooms disappear.
"If the sport continues to pull away from (Harry Potter) then I imagine the brooms will go as well – when the broom is the best part!" she said. "It's what makes the sport 'magical.' "
So why Roseville? Do we have local teams?
The event, starting at 10 a.m. today, will include 17 teams from as far as British Columbia, but there are no local teams. Placer Valley Tourism, whose aim is to fill local hotel rooms, offered the best deal.
IF YOU GO
What: International Quidditch Association's Western Cup tournament
When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. today; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Maidu Park, 1550 Maidu Drive, Roseville
Cost: Free for spectators
For more information: www.internationalquidditch.org/western-cup/.