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Quidditch sweeps across WSU

For a couple hours every weekend, Caroline Anderson rides a broom. Clutching the handle, she takes off running across a grassy field at Wichita State University, a twentysomething grad student in Gryffindor red, throwing quaffles, hurling bludgers, laughing heartily and making some magic, Harry Potter style.

Anderson, her husband and about a dozen friends are among a growing legion of college-age Harry Potter fans turning the fictional, aerial game of Quidditch into an earthbound sport.

"I had no idea this even existed, but when I saw it online I was like, ‘This is so cool,’ ” said Anderson, 24, who is pursuing a master’s degree in viola performance.

“I texted all my friends who were Harry Potter fans — and some who weren’t — and I said, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ ”

Since at least 2004, fans have played games resembling the Harry Potter sport, which was invented by author J.K. Rowling and detailed in Kennilworthy Whisp’s “Quidditch Through the Ages.” The “fictional” book, ghost-written by Rowling, is said to be held in the Hogwarts library.

In the United States, teams are established or forming at about 400 colleges, said Alex Benepe, commissioner of the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association. The association, based in Middlebury, Vt., hosts the Quidditch World Cup each fall.

“A lot of people think it’s ridiculous. I did, too, at first,” said Benepe, 23.

“But it’s such a carefree game. It’s chaotic. It’s this very strange blend, because it’s competitive and kind of a joke at the same time.”

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Nowadays Quidditch teams . . . travel to pitches where adequate anti-Muggle security is maintained. As Zacharias Mumps so rightly suggested six hundred years ago, Quidditch pitches are safest on deserted moors.

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The WSU team meets Saturday afternoons on a pitch just south of Koch Arena.

They bring brooms and sections of PVC pipe, volleyballs, four-square balls and hula hoops, which serve as goals. Anderson’s husband, Mark, a Cessna engineer, crafted elaborate wooden goal stands that hold the hoops aloft. Using bolts and duct tape, he sets them up, three at each end of the field.

“Luckily, I have a very supportive husband,” Anderson said. “Mark also agreed to be our Snitch.”

In the Harry Potter books and movies, the Golden Snitch is a walnut-sized ball that flies around on its own and must be captured by a Seeker to end the game.

In non-magical Quidditch, the Snitch is played by a person, usually decked out in yellow, who tucks a flag or sock into his waistband and roams across prescribed boundaries, sometimes an entire campus.

During a recent practice, Mark Anderson wore his Snitch attire but played coach and Chaser instead. The team is still short a few players and is learning the basics, so the members run drills, tossing balls back and forth while clutching their brooms.

Two women stop to watch the scene. They chuckle.

“Want to play?” Anderson yells, motioning toward the extra brooms. “It’s fun!”

The women smile and wave, shaking their heads.

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The Chudley Cannons wear robes of bright orange emblazoned with a speeding cannonball. . . . The club motto was changed in 1972 from “We shall conquer” to “Let’s all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.”

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The fledgling WSU squad already has big dreams, including matchups with teams from the University of Kansas and elsewhere.

A team from Texas A&M competed in the World Cup last fall, “so they’re good,” Anderson said. “We want to work up to that.”

First, though, the WSU team must apply for official club status with the university. After that, they can seek membership with the IQA and earn the chance to compete against other schools.

They don’t have a team name or mascot yet, but they like the sound of the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, mythical creatures that cannot fly.

Anderson’s German shepherd, Greta, dressed in crumpled horns (no doubt designed by Mark), would serve as Snorkack mascot. The dog already knows how to play dead when somebody shouts the killing curse, “Avada Kedavra!”

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. . . Quidditch has changed beyond all recognition since Gertie Keddle first watched “those numskulls” on Queerditch Marsh. Perhaps, had she lived today, she too would have thrilled to the poetry and power of Quidditch.

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The Andersons and their teammates — most of them strings players or music education majors — recognize the humor in hopping aboard brooms and pretending to be witches and wizards.

“Everyone’s a little skeptical at first, but this is an incredibly amusing game,” Caroline Anderson says. “We spend the whole time laughing.”

A photo on the group’s Facebook page shows Anderson and teammate Chris Lovell in mid-leap atop a snow-covered hill, so it looks like they’re flying.

Right now they use regular household brooms, but Anderson has seen nicer ones online. The Scarlet Falcon, handmade from oak and “hand-tied for an authentic look,” sells for $59.

But even better than authentic wizard brooms and capes, Anderson said, would be hosting a Quidditch match to raise money for local strings programs. “When we get a fan base going or enough people interested, that would be great,” she said.

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