A sport which began as a fantasy is now part of the real world, and had a very real and positive impact on the Midlands’ economy in April, as some of the best Muggle players in the world gathered for U.S. Quidditch Cup 9.
The Harry Potter-inspired sport’s national championship brought 60 teams from all over the country to Palmetto Health Fields at Saluda Shoals Park on St. Andrews Road in Columbia, and more than 5,000 people attended each of the two days of the tournament. The Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, the Columbia Regional Sports Council, and the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission joined forces to host the event, working since the August 2015 announcement of the venue to prepare.
The event was a hit, drawing big crowds with a mix of locals and out of town visitors. The visitors booked more than 1,100 hotel room nights and spent more than $850,000 in the Columbia area, according to estimates from the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism. Authority staff said those numbers exceeded projections for the tournament, which also attracted coverage from local news outlets and from NBC and CBS at the network level.
“It was a great place to have the Cup,” said Sarah Hall, who came from Oklahoma for the tournament. “The weather was perfect, everyone was friendly, and there was plenty to do when we weren’t at the tournament.”
On the field, the sport was a hit for devoted fans and newcomers alike. Quidditch, played by wizards on flying brooms in the beloved J.K. Rowling novels, has evolved into a Muggle version played by more than 300 teams around the world. In 2007, only two teams attended the first Quidditch Cup (then known as the World Cup). By year four, that number had increased to 46, and beginning in 2013, teams were required to qualify through regional tournaments for a shot at the national title. Many teams represent colleges, but many others simply represent communities.
It did not take long for a Quidditch novice watching the tournament at Saluda Shoals to realize that this co-ed sport is serious, and at times violent. Full contact and hard hits are part of the game, and those who compete at the national championship level are unquestionably athletes.
“I’m proud of all the teams who competed this weekend to show how incredible our sport is,” U.S. Quidditch Interim Executive Director Sarah Woolsey said. “The passion and athleticism on display at the event demonstrated to spectators old and new why Quidditch is so engaging and amazing.”
The game brings non-stop action, as teams of seven try to score by throwing a ball through one of three vertical hoops, while defenders throw other balls at the attackers to stop them. Meanwhile, players must keep a broomstick between their legs at all times. Then comes the added wrinkle of the Snitch. The flying golden ball of the books is replaced by a human dressed in yellow in the Muggle version. Capturing the Snitch means gaining possession of a tennis ball in a sock attached to the shorts worn by the Snitch. That capture means 30 points for the capturing team and ends the game.
The full rulebook and more information on the sport is available here.
A game within “Snitch range,” with the trailing team in position to tie or win by grabbing the Snitch, takes on a new level of excitement, and that was seen at the Cup. Ball State grabbed the Snitch to upset the three-time national champions from the University of Texas. In the semifinals, QC Boston trailed Lone Star QC 80-60 late in the game, but a tremendous dive for the Snitch turned looming defeat into a 90-80 victory and brought the crowd to its feet. The cheers and the celebration would have fit into the championship level of any of the more familiar American sports.
The final also did not disappoint, as QC Boston and Rochester United went to overtime with the national championship on the line. With just 30 seconds left to play, Boston’s Jayke Archibald scored to life his team to a 140-130 victory and its first national championship.
Archibald, along with many others who played in the Cup, will head to Germany in July to play for the U.S. National Team in the International Quidditch Association’s World Cup.
Columbia will bid to host the national championship again in 2017, according to officials.