Baylor Quidditch: Unified on the pitch

The Baylor Quidditch team practices in Minglewood Bowl on Tuesday. Match play begins on Sept. 18. Photo Credit: Timothy Hong | Lariat Photographer

Author J.K. Rowling’s stories of Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have enchanted readers for nearly 20 years. One of the story’s aspects that has transcended the literary world and made it to the human realm, especially across college campuses, is the game of Quidditch. The object is to score the quaffle (volleyball) through any of the three hoops while preventing the opponent from scoring. The first team that catches the snitch (individual assigned to wear gold or yellow and elude capture) ends the game.

This fascination with Quidditch goes well beyond those students who were infatuated with the books growing up or with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as they brought these beloved characters to the big screen. Quidditch is for the average joe. It is for the the ex-athlete and the bookworm. Quidditch can be for everyone who wants to give it a shot.

“What’s really interesting is that a number of our players have never read the books or seen the movies,” said Mark Williard, Keller graduate student and keeper for the team. “They just really have fun playing the game. We are basically a bunch of washed up athletes that have this random, nerdy obsession, and it is the perfect combination of two of my favorite things.”

According to the United States Quidditch website, the game was founded by freshman Xander Manshel at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005. Middlebury hosted the very first game of Quidditch that October. The game continued to increase in popularity over the next few years, and that wave of popularity made its way to Waco in spring 2011.

“It was something I really enjoyed, and I think people were fascinated by Quidditch and kind of wanted to know, ‘How do we actually make this into an actual sport we can play?’” Kennedale senior beater Blake Stroncek said. “The game was just so fun, and we wanted to jump in and start a team.”

Baylor Quidditch has morphed into a prominent program over the past five years since its inception. It fields two teams with 46 total players on the roster. An A-team called Baylor Quidditch and a B-team called Osos de Muerte. Baylor’s A-team has qualified for the U.S. Quidditch Cup (National Championship of Quidditch) every year except the 2015 season and has seen its program advance to the Final Four. One year it sent both Baylor teams one year to participate in the U.S. Quidditch Cup.

“Our main goal is to get there and make it as far as we can,” Stroncek said. “Last year, due to some injuries and a couple of issues, we did not play as well at regionals. But our main goal is to get back to the World cup and re-establish and rebuild our B-Team.”

Although Baylor did not qualify for the U.S. Cup last year, they ended up participating and winning the Consolation Cup, which is equivalent to the National Invitational Tournament in collegiate basketball.

Quidditch is still in its infancy stages as a collegiate sport, and as it continues to develop and expand to more campuses across America, established teams will have to keep up with the changes. Baylor is already adapting to the changing culture of the sport in order to maintain its level of excellence on the pitch.

“We still get an entirely new rule book every year, and so there are a lot of strategies on the pitch that have started to change,” Stroncek said.

One of the main areas in which Baylor has had to adapt quickly is on the defensive end, as it once boasted one of the best defensive strategies in the country.

“When I came into the program, Baylor was famous for being one of the only schools in the country that could run a zone defense. It was the Baylor defense, and nobody could break it,” Stroncek said. “As the years have gone on, we really had to begin to adapt our defensive strategy to remain competitive because the game is continually changing.”

Quidditch is also extremely physical and demands a high level of training.

“When I joined, I was not expecting Quidditch to be as physically demanding and athletically competitive as it actually is,” Williard said. “I’ve ended up training so much harder for Quidditch than I ever did for football, baseball or track.”

It is not the defense or their strict training regime that makes the Baylor Quidditch team successful. It is not its previous success at the U.S. Cup. It is the sincerity of the friendship and community among the team members.

“It’s the people that keeps everybody around,” Stroncek said. “There aren’t very many people that can call themselves college Quidditch players, so we just kind of unite under that weird banner. It’s a really great group of people around.”

Williard believes it is so much more than just a community — the Baylor Quidditch team functions best as a family.

“We have so much fun both and off the pitch,” Williard said. “I’ve played sports my whole life and have never felt so connected to a group of people. We use the term ‘family’ a lot, and it describes perfectly what we are. We take each other. We get to travel and have lot of amazing experiences that have made my college experience unforgettable.”

The Baylor Quidditch team is hoping to enhance the Waco community by electing a service chair who will help them participate in service projects throughout the year, as well as electing a team chaplain to help encourage players and add a spiritual component to the competition.

The Bears begin their quest for another trip to the U.S. Cup on Sept. 24 in the Breakfast Taco Tournament, hosted on the campus of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. They also begin their house matches, which are played every Sunday at 5 p.m., on Sept. 18 at Minglewood Bowl.