When Muggle Meets Magic

Oct. 15, 2010, 2:00 a.m.

There seems to be a good chance that Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 attended Hogwarts. Even though he spent his first five years in England, he’s from Edinburgh, where J.K. Rowling wrote the best-selling Harry Potter series. And this year, he’s bringing the sport of Quidditch to Stanford.

“It’s in my blood,” he said, referring to how his Scottish roots connect him to the series. “Although I’m still a Muggle.”

His idea to start a Quidditch team was sparked by that Stanford staple: rivalry across the Bay.

When Muggle Meets Magic
(ERIC KOFMAN/The Stanford Daily)

“I watched a YouTube video over the summer…about Berkeley’s Quidditch team, and they spent the majority of it talking about…how they wanted to beat Stanford’s Quidditch team,” which didn’t exist at the time, Macgregor-Dennis said. “So, like any self-respecting Harry Potter fan who goes to Stanford, I felt like it was my duty to form the Stanford Quidditch team.”

Collegiate Quidditch has its roots in Vermont, where Middlebury College formed an intramural league in 2005, which eventually grew into the International Quidditch Association (IQA). Each year, the IQA hosts a “Quidditch World Cup,” which, last year, featured 21 teams. This year, over 50 teams are expected to attend the event in New York City.

Although the IQA has developed rules for collegiate Quidditch, teams sometimes create rules on their own terms. For example, Macgregor-Dennis has been in contact with UC-Berkeley’s team about making rules for their upcoming game. The main challenges are converting the magical aspects of the sport to real-world possibilities.

“The largest handicap that we have is that none of our members can fly,” Macgregor-Dennis said. “In terms of equipment, we’re looking at the moment for broomsticks and capes. Preferably we’re looking for shorter broomsticks for more maneuverability.”

A volleyball will be used to represent the Quaffle, while the Bludgers will be dodgeballs. Hula hoops will become the goalposts. But probably the most bizarre aspect of Muggle Quidditch is the Snitch, originally a tiny flying ball that must be caught to end the game.

“[The Seeker] is a person with a tennis ball in a sock tied to their waist,” said Natalie Stumpf ’13, another member of the founding team. She got involved after receiving an intriguing e-mail; however, she has had a longtime interest in Harry Potter.

“I took a class last year which was about folklore, and I actually wrote a paper about Harry Potter,” Stumpf said. So when she got an e-mail from Macgregor-Dennis about the new team, she knew she couldn’t resist.

Stumpf and Macgregor-Dennis were both inspired by separate encounters with the renowned author herself.

“When I was 10, I went to a book signing with J.K. Rowling,” Stumpf said. “She waved at me, and it was just incredible.”

Macgregor-Dennis saw Rowling when he attended one of her talks, which he described as “probably the greatest moment of my existence.”

Their excitement about Rowling is reflected in the zeal with which they have gone about making Muggle Quidditch a reality on campus.

So far, Macgregor-Dennis, Stumpf and their fellow team members, which together make a group of six, are focusing on a single upcoming game against Cal’s team. The match will take place on Nov. 13, the Sunday before Big Game, at UC-Berkeley.

“We’re a little behind in that we’re freshly formed,” Macgregor-Dennis said. “We believe [Berkeley’s Quidditch team] formed last year, so they have a little bit more familiarity with the rules of the game.”

If this game goes well, the team might branch out and try to play teams from other schools. First, though, Macgregor-Dennis and Stumpf need more players to round out their team. There are seven people from each Quidditch team on the field at one time, but ideally the team will comprise at least 10 members.

“We’re actively seeking new members,” Macgregor-Dennis said. “There’s no prior experience or magical powers necessary. The main challenge has just been alerting people of it, finding the Harry Potter fans [at Stanford] that clearly exist and would be very keen about the game.”

Finding Quidditch players is difficult, he said, simply because the sport is still new and not yet well-known.

Although the idea of Quidditch as a professional sport might currently seem far-fetched, Macgregor-Dennis sees it as a distinct possibility. He cites rugby as an example; in the United States, it started off in the 1800s just as a sport played at colleges, and it only truly became a professional sport in 1995.

“It might well take Quidditch a couple centuries to get to the standing of professional sport,” Macgregor-Dennis said. “But I think the people who are involved in it think that it will.”

“Hopefully, one day, children will spend their day on the Quidditch field,” he added.

Because of the diversity of the positions on a Quidditch team and the variety of skill needed for those positions, the ideal professional Quidditch player would be an all-around athlete.

“You probably also need good field awareness; you need to have a good game-mind,” Macgregor-Dennis said.

Until that day comes, though, he can be satisfied with the exciting prospects for Quidditch right here in the Stanford bubble.

“I think Quidditch is a sport with a lot of camaraderie,” Macgregor-Dennis said, comparing the spirit to the likes of the Leland Stanford Marching Band.

Stumpf said she is drawn to the creativity of the endeavor.

“I just think it’s really cool that people have taken something that’s in this book, and that sounds so incredibly fantastical, and made it into something you can actually do,” she said.

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