(Credit: Laura Bertocci)

The real-life Quidditch Western Cup tournament took place in Cheviot Hills Park this past weekend in the biggest ever quidditch-related event to occur west of the Mississippi. Eleven teams from all over the western half of the nation competed for the tinfoil-wrapped trophy and the championship title, eventually won by Arizona State University. Participating teams included Arizona State University, Emerson College, Moorpark College, Occidental College, San Diego Devil Snares, San Jose State University, Silicon Valley Skrewts, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California and the University of Utah.

Quidditch is a sport adapted from the Harry Potter series, fictionally played in the air on flying brooms. The real-life version is earthbound, and players must hold their Nimbus 2000s between their legs as they sprint, presenting the challenge of throwing and catching balls with only one hand. The four Chasers pass the quaffle (a volleyball) between them, trying to score it through one of the three mounted hoops that serve as goals at the opposite end of the field. They are pursued by the opposite team’s Bludgers, who hurl dodgeballs at the players while they pass. If a player is hit, they must drop the quaffle (if they have it) and run a lap around their own goal posts before they can continue playing. Each team has a seeker (the position played by Harry Potter), who must try to catch the 15-point value snitch. Unlike the original version, the snitch is not a small winged ball, but rather an evasive cross-country runner with a sock containing a tennis ball tucked into the waistband. Capture of the sock ends the game.

“Some people think that we’re wussies,” says Willie O’Reilly of the Arizona State University Sun Devils. “But they don’t realize how hard the sport really is.”

Quidditch demands a certain level of endurance and coordination in order to sprint the length of the pitch and catch the balls while dodging Bludgers and players. Being a full contact sport, most players have sustained considerable injuries in addition to the constant inner thigh broom-burn, but to them it’s worth it.

“I’m willing to break some bones for this,” says ASU player Ryann Padilla.

In Cheviot Hills Park, the teams lined up during the opening ceremonies to take their turns running a lap around the pitch, captains holding a wand aloft like a bandleader. The teams surrounded Commissioner of the International Quidditch Association Alex Benepe and Western Regional Director Harrison Homel, who stood next to a cardboard box with the tinfoil cup sculpture on top.

“If you guys cheer loud enough, Harrison might be able to do some magic,” Benepe tells the crowd. After screams of “QUIDDITCH!” reach a climax, the cup is “magically” lowered into the box by the people crouched inside, and a dove is launched into the air.

The ceremonies marked the beginning of the two-day event, which included breaks for meals and entertainment in addition to quidditch play. Wizard rock band the Remus Lupins performed on the first night, during a bonfire on the beach. Alongside the pitch, vendors sold pumpkin pastries out of tents, and Harry Potter novelty store Whimsic Alley displayed their elaborate inventory, which ranges from quills to books entitled Harry Potter Should Have Died.

The teams squared off on the pitch, taking off after referees declared, “The snitches are loose!” Dashing across the field, players weaved and jumped, finding ever-more creative ways to evade their opponents. Commentator Jacob Berry embodied Lee Jordan, his fictional counterpart, known for his hilarious jokes and biased narration of the game.

“I’m not saying that UCLA is worse, I’m just saying they’re ugly,” he jokes in good fun. Despite players’ dogged determination, there are rarely hard feelings at the end of a game, according to players. A disputed score led to a three-minute overtime round between UCLA and Moorpark, and although UCLA remained victorious, there were still smiles, hugs and handshakes at the end of the game.

“Everyone in quidditch has such a positive attitude,” says Chief Operations Officer Alicia Radford. “Something like [the overtime round] never would have happened in football. The most important thing is always that you’re playing quidditch.”

Alex Benepe is one of the original founders of quidditch, helping his friend Xander Manshel adapt the rules during their days at Middlebury College. Now that the sport has gained notoriety, it has become his full-time job. He arranges tournaments across the country, attending in a Willy Wonka-esque pinstriped three-piece suit, a top hat and red sunglasses.

“A little kid once asked me if I was the Mayor of Quidditch,” he says of the outfit. “I told him ‘Absolutely.’”

Benepe hopes to see the sport continue to expand.

For more information, visit internationalquidditch.org.