Playing a Wizard’s Game on Ordinary Broomsticks

The Macaulay Marauders are one of three New York teams that will compete in the Quidditch World Cup this weekend, a contest made famous by Harry Potter.



Not many people have heard of Macaulay Honors College, a school in New York City with 1,770 students and just one athletic team: the Marauders.

But the team has qualified for a coming World Cup, giving students something to rally around and bringing some recognition to the school, which is part of the City University of New York.

“We like to say we’re the best looking sports team at Macaulay because, really, we’re the only team,” said Jenna Jankowski, 20, an English major who helped start the team. “At least we have a good monopoly on school support.”

The sport the Marauders play? Quidditch, a real-world adaptation of the sport played by wizards and witches in the Harry Potter books and movies.

Macaulay is one of three teams from New York City that qualified for the sixth annual Quidditch World Cup, being held this weekend in Kissimmee, Fla.

The other two are a team from New York University and a team not affiliated with any school, the New York Badassilisks, who practice, as the Marauders do, on a nondescript open space in Central Park near West 86th Street.

“It’s basically a big dirt patch, a dust bowl,” Ms. Jankowski said. “You cover your mouth and eyes to keep the dust out.”

There, the Marauders often scrimmage with the Badassilisks, whose players range in age from 18 to 45.

The team, its name a play on “basilisk,” a giant serpent in the Harry Potter books, grew out of a Harry Potter meet-up group about three years ago, said one of the team’s members, Michael E. Mason, 33, who manages two Doughnut Plant stores in Manhattan. “I embody both the jock and nerd side,” he said. “It’s a hard-core, physical, tough, intense sport. And if you doubt that, then come out on the pitch and get hit.”

In the J. K. Rowling novels, Harry Potter played the game with his Gryffindor teammates on flying broomsticks.

The human adaptation, known as Muggle Quidditch — Muggle being Ms. Rowling’s word for “nonmagical folk” — is a full-contact, coed sport combining elements of dodge ball and rugby on an elliptical field. And yes, the players straddle brooms.

There are seven players to a side — three chasers, two beaters, a keeper, and a seeker — and three kinds of balls: a quaffle, a snitch and bludgers. The chasers try to get the quaffle — a slightly deflated volleyball — through one of three hoops guarded by keepers. Beaters throw the bludgers, dodge-ball-style, at the chasers. Seekers chase the runner who has the snitch — a tennis ball — tucked into a sleeve attached to his shorts.

The game has spread to hundreds of college campuses. The World Cup, which for the last two years was held in New York City, will have about 80 teams this year, including squads from Canada, France and Mexico.

“It’s gotten to be a lot bigger than just Harry Potter,” said Alex Benepe, 26, the commissioner of the International Quidditch Association, which organizes the World Cup and has 250 dues-paying teams.

Mr. Benepe’s father is Adrian Benepe, who stepped down last year as New York City’s parks commissioner. Now his son is the commissioner in the household he shares with his parents on the Upper West Side.

“Maybe it’s Freudian, maybe I inherited it from my dad,” Alex Benepe said with a laugh.The younger Mr. Benepe, a marketing consultant, is known to wear a tuxedo, scarf and top hat at tournaments, along with a cane adorned with a golden snitch.

He was, he said, among the first to play quidditch as a competitive sport, at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005, when he was a freshman. A friend, Xander Manshel, suggested that they all borrow some brooms and play the game, using the Harry Potter series as a playbook. Soon, Mr. Benepe was running a college league. In 2007, after reading about the quidditch World Cup in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” he formed an intercollegiate association and held the first real-world World Cup, with Middlebury taking on Vassar College in the middle of Middlebury’s campus. Quidditch is attracting talented athletes who are not Harry Potter bookworms. Tackles are commonplace. So are broken bones and twisted ankles. There will be a concussion expert at this year’s World Cup. Its practitioners say it is serious, but never too serious.

“One thing joins us all together: you have to be the kind of person who wants to ride a broomstick,” said Bryan Hall, 22, one of the captains of the N.Y.U. team, known as the Nundu, a word used in the Harry Potter books to describe a leopardlike creature. “You know there’s a sense of ridiculousness to the sport and so no matter how competitive it gets, you have to take a step back and say, ‘O.K., I’m playing quidditch, I’m riding a broom.’ ”

The N.Y.U. team practices at East River Park in Manhattan. The team is a mix of Potter fanatics and serious athletes who are not so wild about Harry, said Mr. Hall, a senior.

The same is true of the Macaulay team. Since Macaulay students take classes throughout the City University system, its players come from all five boroughs, including three City College soccer players and a Lehman College tennis player. Other members, like Ms. Jankowski, have no real sports background.

“We started it as fans and turned into athletes,” said Ms. Jankowski, who lives on Staten Island and takes classes at the College of Staten Island. She built the team’s first hoops with the help of her father, a carpenter, and drew stares while carrying them on the subway to practice.

“People see us carrying hoops and brooms,” she said, “and some of them have wound up following us to practice, to watch.”