Monday, September 14, 2015

The Organizational X-Factor

What if I told you, the players didn't determine the outcome of the game?

With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, the time has come to identify favorites, contenders and dark horses for each region. For the past few years, I've settled into a tired routine, examining graduations and rosters to predict the future. I've weighed the effects of losing players and adding players for countless teams. I've tried to imagine whether chasers can outscore opponents or beaters can command bludger control. I've looked into my crystal ball, wondering about styles of play and matchups. I've guessed about what will happen on the pitch.

I think it's time to take a step back and consider quidditch happenings off the pitch. Beyond chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers, there's an x-factor that determines wins and losses in quidditch. It's not referees. It's not snitches. It's not match-fixers. It's the captains, presidents, coaches, treasurers and executive boards that operate quidditch programs across the country. While bad organization can spoil great opportunities, good organization can open exciting, new possibilities. Without a doubt, well-organized quidditch programs will be the best prepared to navigate the yearlong quidditch season and keep improving throughout the season. Quidditch success is a function of the players and the organization.
Photo by Nicole Harrig
The organizational x-factor is not a secret or a new phenomenon. The three-time defending champions at the University of Texas have enjoyed outstanding leadership and organization. Ain't No Ho in Me provided a behind-the-scenes look at how Augustine Monroe and company recruited, trained and guided new players to an improbable World Cup VII title. Last year, New York University shot into the upper tier of quidditch thanks to a rigorous tournament schedule. The early years of all-star community teams were littered with off-field and on-field problems. Lack of cohesion or coordination off the pitch often translated into losses and disappointment. In recent years, poorly-organized college programs have underachieved and experienced persistent roster issues.

I believe off-field organization impacts the success of quidditch programs in three ways. Good organization...

1. Improves recruitment by maintaining an active presence in the local community. From college campuses to communities, quidditch programs work hard to craft a positive reputation. Social media accounts present the best face of the team for potential recruits. When Twitter, Facebook and Instagram depict a close-knit, competitive and talented team, teams are more likely to attract friendly, competitive and talented new players. As teams become more successful, social media accounts begin to look like self-fulfilling prophecies.

2. Provides more opportunities to get better by scheduling more practices and tournaments. Intuitively, highly-organized programs will utilize their organizational skills and load up the calendar. It's no coincidence that the best programs research tournaments months in advance. However, well-organized programs are also highly selective, knowing that excessive travel can overwhelm the team. For great presidents and executive boards, the calendar is a precise recipe that must be meticulously planned. Thinking long and hard about tryouts, practices and tournament schedules is the hallmark of a well-organized program. 
Photo by Nicole Harrig 
3. Inspires confidence and purpose in rank-and-file players. The best quidditch presidents, captains and executive boards are hard-working, dedicated and impressive people. With ambitious, attainable goals, quidditch organizers captivate new recruits and set the tone for the season. As the season progresses, the microscope only tightens on quidditch organizers. Will team leadership stay determined and focused despite the challenges of life and school? Rank-and-file players will be watching closely. Without a doubt, the actions of team organizers rub off on the players. For example, rank-and-file players will be more willing to make sacrifices of time and money for captains and coaches that make similar sacrifices. The difference between overachieving and underachieving begins at the top.

The Organizational X-Factor and the 2015-16 Season 
The organization x-factor matters more than ever. As the 2015-16 season kicks off, the organizational edge has swung decisively towards community teams. Until recently, college teams enjoyed an organizational advantage thanks to financial support, easier recruiting and more motivated leadership. First-year community teams could not compete with the organizational machines of Texas, Texas A&M, Emerson and Maryland. However, today's community teams have never been more sophisticated. Community teams have secured sponsorships to finance travel, uniforms and more. The leaders of many community teams appear determined and confident. Operating popular social media accounts, community teams advertise tryouts and fundraisers to the quidditch community. Most impressively, community teams have created B teams and practice squads to accommodate high levels of interest.

Fresh off 2014-15 season victories, the losses of World Cup VII have faded into the history books for community teams. Last year, community teams placed seven teams in the Sweet Sixteen and won regional championships in the Southwest, South and West. Lone Star, Florida's Finest and the Lost Boys are the early favorites to retain their regional titles. And Blue Mountain, QC Boston, the Warriors, Rochester United and DCQC will challenge for regional championships in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. Community teams won't be invincible. Nevertheless, only highly-organized college programs will stand a chance against today's sophisticated, all-star community squads.
Photo by Nicole Harrig 
College programs with the organizational x-factor and identity, postgraduates or history will pose the most dangerous threats to community teams. Here's why and which college squads to watch for.

First, community teams should watch out for college programs with strong identities. Identity describes a unique and distinctive style of play that has been mastered by a quidditch team. Shaped by a team's strategies, personnel and temperament, identity should be tweaked throughout the season, but should not be changed. The middle of the season is not the time for an identity crisis. Historically, the strongest identities have become engrained in quidditch vocabulary (the Baylor zone, Kansas-ing). Ball State has perhaps the most recognizable identity today. Easing into a patient, methodical rhythm, Ball State's chasers circulate the quaffle with short, high-percentage passes. When an opening appears, Ball State pounces and collects ten points. If Blue Mountain falters, Ball State will be ready to spring an upset and claim the top spot in the Great Lakes. 

Staring down Lone Star and QC Boston, Texas State and Tufts should also benefit from strong identities. With chaser Tyrell Williams and beater Jackson Johnson stepping into larger shoes, Texas State will probably stay loyal handoffs and one-and-half beating. And Tufts will most likely return to the winning combination of Andrew Miller's smart, calculated beating and David Stack's direct, efficient ballhandling. Both Texas State and Tufts know who they want to be. Therefore, both teams can focus on integrating new players into their system.

Second, college programs with postgraduate coaches and players will also be more prepared to defeat community teams. Providing experience and maturity, postgraduates stabilize reloading processes for college programs. From tryouts to practices to tournaments, postgraduates understand that slow and steady wins the race. Last season, Augustine Monroe secured eligibility to play the entire season for Texas and guided the Longhorns to a third consecutive title. Although Monroe has since departed and formed the Texas Cavalry, other high-profile players are planning extended stays with their alma mater for the 2015-16 season. 
Photo by Nicole Harrig
Opening a new(-ish) chapter of his career, Dan Daugherty has rostered as a beater for BGSU. Whether Daugherty can transition to beater is unimportant. Daugherty's reassuring presence alone makes BGSU more threatening to Blue Mountain. In the Northeast, Kyle Jeon has confirmed that he will return to NYU as a player and unofficial coach. As NYU soared up the rankings last fall, Jeon's on- and off-field impact was almost unmatched in the quidditch world. Jeon will ensure that NYU keeps opponents guessing and remains a major obstacle for QC Boston. Finally, after a season-long hiatus, chaser Sean Beloff and keeper Stephen Ralph will be back with the University of Miami to give Florida's Finest a run for their money.

When lacking identity or postgraduates, college squads will fall back on the historical strength of the program. The most successful college programs are often well-prepared for the future. B teams and well-trained senior leadership can weather the storm of graduations and manufacture respectable tournament performances. For example, the three-time defending champions are not going anywhere. Under the leadership of breakout keeper David Acker and Michael Duquette, who has evolved into the Southwest's best beater, Texas will never be an easy matchup for Lone Star. In the Great Lakes, Ohio State could easily avenge World Cup 8's losses with chaser Jeremy Boettner slashing across pitches and beater Julie Fritz securing the defense. Even Maryland, who lost Harry Greenhouse, Erin Mallory and Bryan Barrows to graduations, will stay relevant in the weaker Mid-Atlantic.

Happy new season! And remember the organizational x-factor!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interview with MLQ Creator Ethan Sturm

On August 22nd, Major League Quidditch wrapped up its first season with MLQ Championship Weekend in Toledo, Ohio. I talked with MLQ creator Ethan Sturm about the past, present and future of MLQ. Enjoy!

What was the greatest success of the inaugural Major League Quidditch season? As the founder and the visionary, what made you proudest?

The greatest success, was, by far, the comprehensiveness of the coverage. The fact that we have video and stats of every game for the entire season, and live stream of most of the season and all of the championships, is a place that quidditch has never been before, and it's really exciting to be there. We no longer have to base assessments on anecdotal account of teams or players, it's finally all out in the open.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
During the 2014-15 season, MLQ was brainstormed, planned and brought to life. What was the most important behind-the-scenes decision that contributed to the success of MLQ?

My personal most important decision was bringing on Amanda Dallas. Her logistical acumen is basically unmatched in quidditch, and she turned what almost definitely would have just been an idea into a smooth-running [reality]. The most important thing we did as a league was bring on Savage as a sponsor. Being able to provide all of our teams with high-quality apparel for a low price went a long way in proving the legitimacy of our league.

As a highly respected referee, how would you evaluate the officiating throughout MLQ's inaugural season?  

Refereeing turned out to be the single biggest challenge of our inaugural season. Needing to put referee crews of purely non-playing referees, week in and week out, was an incredibly tall task, and simply highlighted the severe officiating shortage our sport was having long before Major League Quidditch started. All of that said, we had a group of referees that were extremely committed and consistent in their performance, and we would not have been able to pull the season off without them. Still, we are going to need to redouble our efforts going into next season if we hope to continue to deliver a high-quality product.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
MLQ's Gameplay Department introduced timeouts and eliminated the snitch from overtime this season. Will MLQ's rule changes carry over to next season? What rule changes would you like to be considered for next season and beyond?

Based on feedback from our player base, timeouts were incredibly popular. And I can’t help but to agree: allowing teams to take a breather, step back from the game, and reassess strategy is a great thing to have in the often chaotic world of quidditch. Overtime without a snitch, on the other hand, was more of a mixed bag. On one hand, it reduced the singular effect a seeker could have on the game. On the other, the overtime period often devolved into one team getting out to a 10-point lead and then just killing the clock. If either would be changed come next season, I think it’d be the overtime one. As for more changes, I think we’ll have a better idea once we assess how playing under Rulebook 9 goes for USQ.

In 2016, MLQ will expand with new divisions centered in Texas and California. How will MLQ determine which cities to award franchises to?

It will be similar to the formula we used to choose our first eight cities: a combination of size of the quidditch playing population in the area, our trust of potential leadership in the area, and travel times that won’t be over the top for other teams in the division.

Quidditch talent is not evenly divided between cities. Will MLQ ever take steps to impose parity across divisions and/or the entire league?

If we ever got to a point of being truly semi-pro, where there was no cost to players and even some amount of a stipend involved, we could consider having teams truly draft their team. But for now, there’s no getting around teams being location based.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area each support multiple professional sports franchises in the same league. Would MLQ considering awarding any city two franchises? 

There would definitely be consideration for a two-team city, potentially as early as a 2017 expansion. But two-team cities will not be considered in the 2016 expansion.
Photo by Hannah Huddle 
MLQ presents the sport of quidditch in an aesthetically-pleasing way. How would you evaluate the spectator experience at MLQ regular season and playoff events? 

Spectator numbers were definitely hit or miss throughout the season, often connected to location and how well a match was advertised. The Boston vs. New York series had by far the best spectator turnout of the regular season, and I know a few people that attended have even come to pick-up quidditch since. The finals also had sizable attendance numbers, and all over Toledo  people were aware of the sport. That said, quidditch, even MLQ, has a long way to go to be truly presentable. Better live streams, more serious media coverage, and game video with announcers and graphics would go a long way in getting us there.

MLQ's original eight franchises will all return next season. Can MLQ teams attract more spectators and build fanbases? How?

It’s all about getting the word out there. Boston drew a big crowd simply by posting on the Boston events calendar, which then got picked up by Boston Magazine. The finals got attention thanks to radio and TV station coverage. We need to keep pushing our way into the media in order to build up fan bases.

The quidditch community has been unhappy with several USQ decisions this summer. Does MLQ depend on USQ in any way? If so, will MLQ try to lobby or work with USQ in the future?

If college quidditch dies, MLQ can only survive for so many years following. We won’t be imposing ourselves on USQ, but we will be counting on them to hold up their end of the deal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Boston's Time to Shine

Thousands of miles away from Texas, there is a shining city on a hill. And it's called Boston.

Last Saturday, the Boston Night Riders claimed the first Major League Quidditch Championship, completing a 13-0 perfect season. After out-of-snitch range blowouts throughout the regular season, the Night Riders faced a surging and determined New York Titans squad in the finals. During the regular season, the Night Riders had swept the Titans in Brookline, Massachusetts. Two weeks later and 750 miles away, the Titans were playing their best quidditch of the summer. With reinforcements Kyle Jeon, Michael Parada and Jaime Colon, the Titans commanded the field for portions of the championship best-of-three series. Without a doubt, the Titans' growth was remarkable. But thanks to timely snitch catches from Harry Greenhouse and Tyler Trudeau, the first Major League Quidditch Championship was the Boston Night Riders' time to shine.
Photo by Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
The Boston Night Riders were not your everyday quidditch team. That was clear from the beginning. In mid-July, I was attending a pre-college program at Brown University. I had been following MLQ scores, but I hadn't watched any MLQ film except the sleep-inducing opening series. But I had just played quidditch for the first time. It was a beautiful day and I had some free time. I found a spot on the quad and opened YouTube on my iPad. I decided to watch the Boston Night Riders take on the Washington Admirals.

After traveling to the nation's capital, the Night Riders exploded out of the gate with a dazzling display of high-energy, high-quality quidditch. It was electric. As a part-time quidditch blogger, I'm supposed to stay impartial. Unfortunately, I like watching great quidditch. I like fastbreaks, alley-oops and hyper-aggressive beating. I like teams and athletes that blow the competition out of the water. Right away, I felt that the Night Riders were something special.

A couple weeks later, I traveled to Brookline, Massachusetts and watched the Night Riders dispatch the Titans. Once again, I was extremely impressed by the Night Riders. I began searching for an explanation. Why had the Night Riders overwhelmed the MLQ East Division? How did the Night Riders make world-class quidditch look so easy? I found an answer within Boston's quidditch history. Let's go back to the beginning.
A History Lesson
In the rolling hills of Vermont, Boston produced the first challengers to Middlebury's dynasty. With a burgeoning quidditch program, Emerson College advanced to the finals of World Cup III and battled Middlebury tooth and nail. Boston University's Kedzie Teller dashed around pitches, foreshadowing his illustrious, two-time Team USA career. When World Cup IV brought quidditch to New York City, Tufts University stole the show with a miraculous run to the finals. While Tufts garnered national media coverage, Emerson and BU were reaffirming their place among the quidditch elite with pool play blowouts and bracket play runs. Back in Boston, Emerson and BU settled into an intense cross-city rivalry.

Soon enough, World Cup V arrived and Boston's quidditch teams drove down I-95 en route to Randall's Island. With new challengers from Florida, Texas, California and the Midwest, the city of Boston was overshadowed at World Cup V. Although Emerson and BU breezed through pool play, the Boston rivals were stopped abruptly in the Sweet Sixteen. In the Florida heat and humidity, World Cup VI also felt pedestrian for Boston. Once again, Emerson and BU advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but both rivals wanted more. The quiet showings at World Cup V and VI belied the bright future of the Boston quidditch scene. Emerson's intramural league was thriving, BU was racking up regional championships and Tufts was rebuilding for the future. The Massachusetts Quidditch Conference provided regular competition between Boston's powerhouses and kept smaller programs like Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts engaged.

Culminating with World Cup VII, the 2013-14 season saw the Boston quidditch scene rise above the rest. BU's trio of keeper Brendan Stack, chaser Michael Powell and beater Max Havlin proved 
unstoppable for most of the season. Meanwhile, Emerson and Tufts traveled to the University of Maryland's Turtle Cup III and took the gold and the silver back to Boston. David Fox romped over the competition for Emerson and the new-look Tufts introduced the quidditch world to David Stack, Hannah DeBaets and Noah Schwartz. Neither Emerson or Tufts had to make the nine hour trip to College Park, Maryland. Historically, Boston's quidditch programs don't travel much. Turtle Cup III signified that Emerson and Tufts were talented, eager to improve and hungry for World Cup success.

In North Myrtle Beach, Emerson's trip to Turtle Cup III paid off. After falling short to BU all season, Emerson made a dramatic run through bracket play and dispatched BU in the quarterfinals of World Cup VII. Although Emerson and BU's Elite Eight clash was overshadowed by Texas A&M versus Lone Star QC, an all-Boston quarterfinal was not insignificant. Only three cities have ever produced two or more quarterfinalists at the same World Cup: Austin, Los Angeles and Boston. With Emerson carrying the flag, Boston's World Cup VII showed that the city would not fade away like Middlebury and capes. Boston could handle springtime World Cups and compete with warm-weather teams. 

With new confidence, Boston capitalized on the momentum and enjoyed a terrific summer of 2014. Everyday Boston summer quidditch practices generated unending hype about new players and brought the Boston quidditch community closer together. Hannah DeBaets, Harry Greenhouse, Max Havlin and Kedzie Teller represented Boston for Team USA at the Global Games. Most importantly, QC Boston underwent a momentous transformation under the leadership of Jayke Archibald. Hitting the reset button, QC Boston became less antagonistic towards local college quidditch programs. QC Boston's shift helped diffuse cross-city tensions and made the Boston Night Riders possible.

The 2014-15 season came next and produced new surprises. Graduations had exacted a toll on long-time powerhouses Emerson and BU. Ready for the challenge, Tufts and QCB quickly stepped into the spotlight. Yet, while Tufts and QCB revolutionized beating and claimed tournament titles, Emerson and (especially) BU began inspiring rebuilding efforts. For college quidditch programs, successful rebuilding efforts have been increasingly rare thanks to the heavy hand of community teams. However, BU began to do the unthinkable, regrouping and recruiting new athletes to replace
quidditch legends. With the 2015-16 season on the horizon, BU's rebuilding effort will attempt to progress further. 

Although Tufts and QCB flunked out of bracket play at World Cup 8, Boston's top quidditch players improved and matured throughout the 2014-15 season. When Ethan Sturm and Amanda Dallas unveiled Major League Quidditch, Boston was ready. 

From the beginning, Boston had all the parts to build a champion. Old teammates reunited. New teammates fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces. By the end of the season, the Night Riders' success could be explained by four key cogs. Each cog represents an aspect of the city of Boston's championship formula. Without a doubt, Boston's recipe for success will not be easy to replicate. Nevertheless, the four ingredients for the 2015 MLQ Champions are listed below.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Blue Bloods exemplify Boston's storied quidditch history. Over the years, the Blue Bloods have led Boston's most successful quidditch programs, drawing eyes nationwide to Boston. Like great musical artists, the Blue Bloods have reinvented their style and adapted to the times. The Blue Bloods have kept Boston ahead of the curve.

David Fox's illustrious four-year career for Emerson began in the bygone era of World Cup V. Indeed, Fox's stardom has spanned monumental changes in quidditch. Evolving from an unstoppable power keeper to a fearsome defensive stopper, Fox's trophy case includes the Champions Series, Turtle Cup III and World Cup VII's Final Four. After showcasing mind-boggling athleticism throughout the summer, Fox's resume now boasts the Benepe Cup. 

Max Havlin was not always a beater. However, Havlin's lasting imprint on Boston quidditch has been made with bludgers. For BU, Havlin cleared out defenders and allowed Stack and Powell to wreak havoc on defenses. After claiming gold at the Global Games, Havlin and QC Boston forced the entire
Northeast to practice and develop two male beater sets. Facing stiffer competition like NYU's Kyle Jeon and Tufts' Andrew Miller, Havlin refined his craft during the 2014-15 season. With the Night Riders, Havlin rightfully earned the MLQ East MVP.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Born and Breds found opportunities to develop and improve over the years thanks to Boston's unique quidditch scene. The Born and Breds entered the quidditch world without fanfare and set to work. Allowing their skills to speak for themselves, the Born and Breds eventually joined the company of the Blue Bloods. The Born and Breds show that great quidditch cities must provide competitive opportunities for all levels. B teams and lower-level college teams can produce unlikely superstars and help make quidditch cities more vibrant. In the age of community teams, quidditch cities must redouble their efforts to sustain lower-level quidditch teams.

Away from the spotlight, Harvard's Carli Haggerty quietly scored goal after goal for Boston's smallest quidditch program. Yet over time, Haggerty gained experience against national powerhouses in the MQC and participated in Boston's summer quidditch scene. This summer, Haggerty brought her scoring and passing ability to the Night Riders' deep and talented female chasing corps.

Tyler Trudeau began his quidditch career on the Boston Riot, Emerson's off-and-on B team. By the 2013-14 season, Trudeau lifted Emerson to Turtle Cup III and World Cup VII glory. Since North Myrtle Beach, Trudeau has matured as an on-pitch leader and improved his playmaking abilities. With Trudeau dishing out assists, Greenhouse-Fox-Trudeau-Baer was the Night Riders' most dependable chasing line.

Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Homecoming Kings and Queens played college quidditch outside of New England, but quickly joined the thriving Boston summer quidditch scene. For years, Boston summer quidditch practices have been a laboratory for position changes, all-star scrimmages and new strategies. Seeking fresh ideas and renewed energy, Boston's summer quidditch scene has enthusiastically welcomed the Homecoming Kings and Queens. When MLQ was unveiled, the Homecoming Kings and Queens had already built strong chemistry with the Blue Bloods and the Born and Breds from past summers. As 
MLQ expands, quidditch cities with strong summer quidditch scenes will enjoy a considerable advantage.

No one brings more energy than Harry Greenhouse. From his pregame hype routine to his snitch catches, Greenhouse exudes confidence and determination. As a leader, Greenhouse sets the tone of high intensity and high expectations. With years of Boston summer quidditch practices, Greenhouse reached new heights as a player on the Greenhouse-Fox-Trudeau-Baer line. When Greenhouse was clicking, the Night Riders truly approached the level of World Cup VI's legendary University of Texas squad.
Photo by Hannah Huddle 
The Transplants came to Boston as college graduates and infused Boston's quidditch scene with life. Helping to maintain the city of Boston's national profile, the Transplants have steered Boston's premier community team, QC Boston: The Massacre, away from disaster. When the new season arrives, QC Boston will be prepared to compete for championships thanks to the Transplants. As a Mecca for young professionals, Boston will always have advantages over Detroit or Cleveland. However, Boston's Transplants have taken enormous strides and seized big opportunities to improve the prospects of tomorrow for Boston's quidditch scene.

At Hofstra University, Jayke Archibald and company always flew under the radar. Why? Hofstra couldn't beat Emerson or BU on the big stage. When Archibald ventured to Boston, QCB promised an invincible superteam, but couldn't deliver in the first year. Meanwhile, relations between QCB and Emerson worsened and the future of community quidditch in Boston was unclear. In the summer of 2014, Archibald captained a sinking ship to safety, embarking on a multi-year plan to claim the top spot in the Northeast. Indeed, the Night Riders, MLQ and the Benepe Cup might only be the beginning. When rosters are unveiled, QCB could be the best team outside of Texas.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

College Quidditch Needs Help Now

For too long, I've been missing-in-action. I produced minimal World Cup coverage and I barely commented on the departure of Alex Benepe and Alicia Radford. I passed on my departing players database to the Quidditch Post. I failed to blog about the start of Major League Quidditch. I still haven't written about Major League Quidditch. I never expressed any opinions about the European Games. As the quidditch landscape has changed, I've been silent. 

Now, I'm going to be loud.

1) A couple days ago, I returned from a pre-college program at Brown University. After countless hours watching quidditch, I finally had the opportunity to play quidditch at Brown. Shutting down offenses and assisting the perfect alley-oop reaffirmed my love of quidditch. Now, I know definitively that I want quidditch to be part of my college experience. College quidditch must still be around for me.

2) Yesterday, I read Augie Monroe's Op Ed: A Call for Separation. In an insightful, well-written piece, Monroe highlighted the appeal of intercollegiate competition for new recruits and the necessity of intercollegiate competition for club sport councils. Monroe proposed separate college and community divisions for the 2017 USQ Nationals.
Photo by Sofia de la Vega
With a newfound love for quidditch, I am proposing separate college and community divisions for the 2016 USQ Nationals. I am not an alarmist. I never use my blog to warn that quidditch is on the edge of an abyss. Nevertheless, the reality is that college quidditch has been drained by community quidditch. The separation of college and community teams must take place at the 2016 USQ Nationals. The 2017 USQ Nationals will be too late.

The Problem: Failures of Building and Rebuilding
World Cup 8 was not a good World Cup for college quidditch. The University of Texas' snitch-range victory over Lone Star Quidditch Club in the championship masked greater problems facing college quidditch. I saw several college quidditch programs kicking the bucket. I was even more troubled by the widespread stagnation of college programs. After World Cup 8, the way-too-early favorites for the next season were all the same universities or new community teams. No new college programs had made the jump into the upper echelon of competitive quidditch.With 50 percent of quarterfinalists and semifinalists, bracket play revealed the increasing dominance of experienced, all-star, postgraduate club teams.
Photo by Isabella Gong
As community teams enjoy success on the national stage, younger, inexperienced players on up-and-coming teams will miss out on magical World Cup runs. At World Cup 8, Virginia surged into bracket play and shocked Tufts in the opening round. Out of nowhere, Virginia was clicking on all cylinders and threatening a deep run into bracket play. Then, Virginia ran into the Lost Boys and the clock struck midnight at eight o'clock. Virginia's World Cup 8 run was ended prematurely. Deep World Cup runs are game-changers for newer college programs, providing momentum for the next season. Beyond Virginia, World Cup 8 lacked game-changing bracket play runs. Accordingly, I've heard little discussion of up-and-coming college programs. I've looked around, region-by-region, and I believe up-and-coming programs are disappearing.

Even at thriving college programs, successful rebuilding efforts have been exceedingly rare thanks to the heavy hand of community teams.Former regional champions UCLA and Miami never regained their World Cup VI-era noteworthiness. At the beginning of each season, each school still attracts new athletes. Yet, neither school has enjoyed sustained momentum. With UCLA and Miami alums, local community teams like the Lost Boys and Florida's Finest have triumphed over college programs again and again, demoralizing younger, inexperienced teams. In addition, Texas A&M was poached into irrelevance after World Cup VII. Texas A&M's rebuilding effort never really had a chance as long as Lone Star QC was looking for players. College programs need room to grow. Right now, the building and rebuilding efforts of college programs have been cramped by community teams.
Photo by Jessica Jiamin Lang
The Solution: A Call for Action
To renew and stimulate growth for college quidditch, USQ Nationals 2016 should feature separate college and community divisions. An intercollegiate division will give college programs room to grow and develop. Building and rebuilding efforts will not be stunted by community teams. College programs will earn more wins on the national stage, garner momentum for the next season, bring new recruits into quidditch and feed community teams for years to come. The community division would allow post graduate players to compete amongst themselves and stay involved with their alma maters or local college program.

An intercollegiate division will also increase the marketability of quidditch. I was drawn to quidditch by familiar college powerhouses like Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, Michigan State and LSU. I liked seeing familiar colors and jerseys. I felt like I had a connection to this weird and unfamiliar sport through familiar schools. Now, first-time quidditch spectators watch a weird and unfamiliar sport with unfamiliar community teams with weird names like Blue Mountain or LA Gambits. It would be much easier for USQ to advertise intercollegiate competition at the national championships. USQ can interact with the social media accounts of universities, reaching an eager audience of future quidditch fans. Once familiar intercollegiate competition hooks new quidditch spectators, then the new spectators can begin to understand community teams.
Photo by Jessica Jiamin Lang
Separate divisions for college and community teams at USQ Nationals will not reverse the stagnation of college programs alone. The problem begins at a regional level. However, separate college and community divisions for regionals and the regular season would be unwise until the 2017-2018 season.  Even without a regular season split, the quidditch community can further help resurrect college quidditch. Community teams can develop healthy, sustainable ties with local college programs and resist the urge to actively or passively poach college players. USQ can target college programs with strategic grants and resources. For USQ, an investment in college programs will pay off with more dues-paying members.

As the Tournament Director for Keystone Cup II, I can also help reenergize college quidditch. The Keystone Cup is an eight-team tournament aimed at the best teams in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes. Right now, I am pledging to reserve six of the eight spots for college programs. It's not that I hate community teams. Most of my friends within the quidditch community play for community teams. I recognize the hardships faced by community teams and I know community teams have contributed greatly to our sport. It's that college quidditch is dying. And if college quidditch dies, the whole sport will begin to die. College quidditch needs a bailout. Separate divisions for college and community teams at USQ Nationals 2016 is only the beginning. College quidditch needs our help now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

From the Press to the Pitch

This summer, college and quidditch came two years early.

Kind of.

After an up-and-down sophomore year of high school, I signed up for a two-week pre-college program at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I would take a three-hour class in the morning and have a "real college experience" for the other twenty one hours. It sounded like a fun idea to me. I arrived, made it through the orientations and settled in at dinner with kids from my hall. I politely listened to conversations about anime (not my cup of tea) until one kid piped up about the activities fair. Did I know that there was a quidditch team?

I blinked. Suddenly, I was living a story that I've heard a million times. I was surprised that a pre-college program sponsored organized quidditch and even more surprised that other kids were genuinely interested. At the activities fair, I wandered past a capella, ultimate frisbee and touch rugby until found the quidditch table. I hinted at my vast experience around quidditch to the guys at the table, who had recently discovered our sport. Pick-up, non-contact quidditch would be played on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

When Tuesday night arrived, quidditch was the cherry on top. My non-quidditch college experience had been going really well. I felt alive. As quidditch time approached, I tightened my shoelaces, filled my water bottle and walked a block from my dorm to the lower quad. I arrived to find a crowd of kids encircling Scott, an RA with four weeks of experience running organized quidditch for high schoolers. As I sat down near my hallmates, Scott labored through the rules, lacking the efficiency and clarity of experienced quidditch-explainers. Nevertheless, Scott was doing his best and my hallmates only asked me for a couple of minor clarifications. It was a group of quick and eager learners. I helped line up the balls and showed the other kids the proper starting position. And then I waited...

On the "B" sound of "Brooms Up!" I surged toward a bludger, leaving my confused teammates in the dust for the first and only time in my quidditch career. I snagged a bludger, beat a few chasers, sent a few beaters back to the hoops and backpeddled out of the chaos with bludger control. For the next five minutes, I played shutdown defense. It really wasn't fair. I was employing a hyper-aggressive beating strategy, taking out passing options, rushing at panicked ball handlers and winning every beater battle. If my beating partner listened to me, I was invincible. I was even uncorking irresponsible long-range beats, but I couldn't seem to miss. 

As the first-time snitch sprinted onto the field, I knew I had to keep track of the opposing seeker. I quickly learned that I would need to practice seeker beating. I couldn't help my team get out of snitch range and I lost track of the snitch, who darted between trees way beyond the non-existent hard boundary. Despite turning heads with my beating, my quidditch career began with a loss. 

The remainder of Tuesday's games and Thursday's games went more or less the same. I would slip a black headband over my backwards IQA hat and make scoring difficult for my opponents. As my opponents improved, I had to sharpen my skills. I couldn't stop a speedy opposing chaser from scoring amid the chaos of brooms up. I had to ease off the unnessecary long-range beats. I had to play without bludger control sometimes. Everytime I made a beginner's mistake, I could hear my own criticisms from my blog.

On Friday, my hallmates and I were invited to join the Providence Ashwinders practice at India Point Park, a 25-minute walk from campus. My hallmates were thrilled to play quidditch with the "professionals" and asked me how many "professionals" to expect at the practice. I wasn't sure, but I reassured my hallmates that we would play a full scrimmage. I was wrong. It was summer and only two able-bodied Ashwinders could attend the practice. I was worried my hallmates would be disappointed and want to head back to campus. Thankfully, nobody seemed to care. We stretched, ran three-on-three drills and enjoyed playing quidditch. 

As my hallmates and I scurried back to campus through the sketchy neighborhoods of East Providence, I was overwhelmed with an enormous respect for small quidditch teams. On The QuidKid, I spend a lot of time glorifying the biggest and the brightest programs in quidditch. However, small, rag-tag quidditch programs have earned my admiration. I appreciate players who endure team hardships and who continue to practice because they love the game. Around friends and family, I'm always trying to persuade people that quidditch is not a waste of time. It was comforting to join a small community where quidditch's worthwhileness was never in question.

To complete my Friday night, I dropped by Chipotle for after-practice burrito and waited for (what seemed like) the rest of the pre-college program to return from a Waka Flocka Flame concert in Downtown Providence. That weekend, I probably missed a couple opportunities to strengthen my new friendships with my classmates. I was disappointed, but I looked forward to another week of quidditch with my hallmates. 

Tuesday night arrived soon enough and I called for the black headband instinctively. In the first mini-game, I played poorly. I missed easy beats and surrendered easy goals. I was also growing more and more frustrated with hard-headed keepers who refused to play offense. I decided to take matters into my own hands and show the other kids the beauty of an offensive keeper. I lined up for brooms up and told my beaters to cover for me defensively. I was determined. I darted to the quaffle and charged at my opponents. In no-tackle high school quidditch, I scored again and again. I played bold, aggressive and fast. I thought back to the days of World Cup IV when teams debuted offensive keepers, leaving their opponents dumbfounded. I would intercept passes on defense and bolt immediately down the field for another goal. This time, my opponents would not steal the game with a snitch catch. Soon enough, my team was out of range.

The other kids continued to improve and began to overcome the shock of an offensive keeper. My beater teammates quickly adapted to my offensive keeping with a smart, conservative strategy. By Thursday, my hallmates and I sneakily created a super team for our last pickup game. And that last game really wasn't about me. It was about Kenny and Zach's give-and-goes and field awareness. It was about Jake and Sam's dominant beating. It was about Peter's crazy vertical leap and jump dunks. As our score approached the triple digits, I realized the best part of my quidditch experience was watching the other kids show up and improve every practice. 

In two years, I'll be back at college and I'll be looking for information about quidditch tryouts. Here's what my future college quidditch coach should know... I can beat or chase, but I don't know if I can take a hit. I'd like to practice seeker beating. I shouldn't really be taking long or mid-range shots or beats. I like fast-paced quidditch. I believe the perfect jump dunk is the pinnacle of quidditch plays. I like scoring, but I love making the players around me better. For me, that's what quidditch is all about.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Continuity and Change in Rock Hill

Three years have passed since the World Cup fled the crisp fall of the Northeast for the sunny spring of the South. Along the way, a regular season emerged from unregulated exhibitions and whimsicality drifted into the forgotten past. Regions crystallized with the dawning of regional championships. Pitch shapes, seeking and officiating witnessed astounding transformations to serve a rapidly evolving sport. A new dynasty replaced the old perennial champions, sparking a distinctly new effort to copy and dethrone the best. Small liberal arts colleges virtually disappeared as large universities seized the spotlight. Community teams became legitimate contenders, raising difficult questions and challenges. The original governing body shed its international obligations, allowing distant lands to flourish or fail.

After three years of adventurous experimentation, a new landscape has emerged. A calmer, more sustainable landscape. A landscape where the World Cup has developed into a consistently on-time and successful championship, fostering competitive and healthy gameplay. A landscape where triumphant wins do not guarantee permanent success and heartbreaking losses do not signal permanent decline. A landscape where each new season and each new World Cup is a new beginning. A landscape where the opportunity of tomorrow beckons.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
Quidditch has reached a stage where continuity is acceptable and change is acceptable. Ever since cramming onto Randall’s Island for World Cup V, the quidditch community has gathered at our national championship with a clear vision for how the drama should unfold. Passionately, the quidditch community picked out heroes and villains. With speed, physicality and finesse, the heroes represented the unlimited possibilities for quidditch. The heroes could propel quidditch forward, past the backwardness of capes. Like a superhuman slugger or a lethal scorer, the heroes were heralded and rewarded with infinite name-drops on blogs and spots on Team USA.

The villains embodied the opposite of progress, holding quidditch back from mainstream appeal. The villains rejected the beautiful game and relied on lucky snitch grabs and pesky beating to eliminate the heroes. Each World Cup, new nameless faces were vilified and accused of playing dirty and taking cheap shots. The unexpected accomplishments of the villains were denied, discredited and ridiculed.

From Randall’s Island to North Myrtle Beach, the struggle between heroes and villains headlined the World Cup. As heroes and villains exchanged blows, the quidditch community desperately clamored for continuity or change. If the heroes were the defending champions, we sought continuity. We wanted the continuation of progress and the triumph of athleticism. If the villains were the defending champions, we desired immediate and radical change. We hoped for restoration of the rightful champions, erasing memories of ugly and unearned victories.

Let’s begin with World Cup V. Played in the breezy autumn of New York City, World Cup V was the precursor to the modern era of quidditch. World Cup V bid farewell to the past and foreshadowed the future. Yet World Cup V was far from perfect. Amid a shaky tournament, the quidditch community was screaming for change. We wanted to see Middlebury lose and a new champion emerge. We began a “Beat Middlebury” campaign to unite hundreds of quidditch players behind our common goal. We were disappointed and angered with the events leading to Middlebury’s fifth World Cup title.

A year and a half later, a rejuvenated quidditch community reunited in the sweltering heat of Kissimmee for World Cup VI. Middlebury was gone and change was inevitable. We were hard-pressed to find a proper villain. However, with certain change on the horizon, we wanted to find the perfect hero. We wanted to see a champion that truly embodied the growing athleticism of quidditch. We needed a shining example for quidditch players across the world. We hit the jackpot. We left World Cup VI elated, celebrating the championship of Texas and imagining the bright future of quidditch.

Fast forward a year to World Cup VII and the quidditch community began searching for continuity in the agreeable air of North Myrtle Beach. We anticipated another epic battle in the finals, pitting the best against the best. We wanted to see another uncontroversial, clear and undisputed champion. We thought we had it all figured out. Suddenly, World Cup VII revealed our misconceptions.

We didn’t expect Texas to win back-to-back championships. We weren’t looking for that kind of continuity. We had longed for undefeated Texas A&M to carry on the illustrious legacy of Texas’ World Cup VI squad. We felt that Texas A&M had been denied a shot at the championship in an ugly semifinal marred by stoppages and injuries. We pointed to the opportunities seized by Texas. We weren’t satisfied, but unlike World Cup V, we weren’t 100% ticked off. The attitude was not the same. We began to move on.
Photo by Sofia de la Vega
Why? We began to see the imperfections in our heroes and the virtues of our villains. We didn’t feel as strongly about upholding continuity or motivating change. Ain’t No Ho in Me recolored our views about Texas’ physical juggernaut, showcasing the likability, resiliency and work ethic of the nation’s top program. After losing captain Drew Wasikowski, Texas A&M abandoned their beautiful passing and flawless off-ball movement for illegal hits and yellow cards. The Lost Boys, the darlings of the quidditch community, experienced a ugly and public breakup that quickly threatened their title hopes and avid fan base. The unattractive physical tactics of Texas State were watched, emulated and incorporated into the “beautiful game.” New experiences made us closer, prompting mutual respect and less blind hate, and the increasing size of the quidditch community made us farther away, diffusing flared tempers and bad blood.

With more complicated characters in the drama of the World Cup, we lifted our habitual pressures off the heroes. The usual intrigue about heroes and villains (Could the heroes retake the World Cup title from the villains? Could the heroes defeat the villains again, retaining the World Cup title?) mattered less. The new World Cup experience would not be defined by complete heroism or complete villainy. The great triumph of heroes at World Cup VI and the crushing victory of villains at World Cup V became a relic of the past. Now that heroes had faults and villains had virtues, desperately screaming for massive continuity and change each year was too tiring and too unrewarding. It wasn’t the end of the world if villains succeeded or heroes failed. We settled for little continuities and little changes, perpetrated by both heroes and villains.

World Cup VIII was the living proof that continuity and change are now an expected and welcome part of quidditch’s national championship. When Texas claimed its third straight championship, we didn’t rush to conclusions and bemoan the state of quidditch. We reveled in the invincibility of Augustine Monroe and applauded the results of Texas’ sprawling intramural system. We cautiously applied the word “dynasty,” recalling Middlebury’s hated dynasty. When community teams avenged their World Cup VII disappointments, we adjusted comfortably and turned the spotlight onto the virtues of postgraduate quidditch. However, we wouldn’t have questioned the state of the sport if community teams had fallen once again. World Cup VIII came and went quickly because there was less built-up anticipation for absolute continuity or change.
Photo by Isabella Gong
As memories of snitch range thrillers, no-look passes and improbable long-range beats faded away, we confronted the sudden and unexpected resignations of CEO Alex Benepe and COO Alicia Radford. Before panicking, we peered around and evaluated the current state of quidditch. We looked deep inside, discovered our acceptance of continuity and change and concluded that quidditch will withstand the inevitable shocks of new league initiatives, new champions and new gameplay debates.

At World Cup VIII, we accepted quidditch for what it is. An ever-evolving sport with infinite possibilities for growth and expansion. A well-established sport with enjoyable competition and enthusiastic players, coaches, snitches, referees and volunteers. A flourishing sport made stronger and more resilient in Rock Hill.

JackthePhan's World Cup VIII coverage is not over! The second part will focus on World Cup VIII's continuites (May 13th) and the third part will analyze on World Cup VIII's changes (May 20th).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Texas Dynasty and Continuity

Texas captured its third consecutive World Cup championship. And by Sunday morning, it was kind of inevitable. Quietly, Texas eased through Swiss play, dispatching Arizona QC, Crimson Elite and Tufts in relatively low-profile matches. Victory after victory produced a perfect rhythm of success. The time and place for constructive losses had passed. A brief scare from Blue Mountain forced Texas to gear up, showing off its vaunted and unmatched Sunday willpower. Ultimately, tougher preliminary competition allowed Texas to transition seamlessly into single elimination. Unlike World Cup VII, Texas faced no close calls, walking over the LA Gambits, Blue Mountain and the Lost Boys. Nevertheless, as the thrill of bracket play arrived, Texas became a formidable locomotive, steaming across rickety train tracks at a breakneck speed. With an uphill battle ahead, Texas exploded into a higher gear with a surge of physicality and aggressive Ain’t No Ho In Me spirit. At the bends, Texas proceeded with caution and avoided disruptive mistakes. Texas would not be derailed before reaching its destination.

Rooted in World Cups VI and VII, Texas has mastered the art of controlled chaos. Beaters Michael Duquette and Freddy Salinas teetered on the edge of command and chaos, racing up and down the pitch and flying into tackles. Chasers Paden Pace and Ryan Davis pushed the limits of composure, while Monroe subbed in to restore a confident and relaxed calm. Amid the action-packed quidditch, Texas definitely made defensive miscues, fumbled away possession and earned yellow cards. However, the shortcomings were never enough to seriously threaten the three-time defending champions. The errors were always corrected appropriately and in time.

By sunset, Texas’ controlled chaos confronted its biggest challenge yet. With the World Cup title on the line, Texas stared down the former teammates and quidditch legends who had built the foundations of controlled chaos years ago. To defeat Lone Star, Texas could not abandon either control or chaos. Texas needed the perfect storm.

During its entire championship run, Texas’ win over Lone Star was the most eerily reminiscent of World Cup VII. Although World Cup VIII Lone Star was more battled-tested than World Cup VII Texas State, Texas reacted to both teams similarly and overcame almost identical challenges to claim the title.

At brooms up, Texas barreled into gameplay and quickly fell into a 20-0 hole. In back-to-back years, chasers Tyrell Williams and Chris Scholtz capitalized on an unorganized Texas defense and notched a pair of goals. Almost by design, Texas was forced to play from behind. Like a true dynasty, Texas barely blinked and proceeded with unshakable trust in the system. If they could erase an early 20-0 deficit, why couldn’t a mix of experienced leaders and gritty role players propel Texas into snitch range later? At World Cup VIII, keeper David Acker and chaser Marty Bermudez heeded the call and fired back with two goals. With any hidden doubts or perceived weaknesses flushed away, the time for Augustine Monroe had arrived.

Every season, quidditch analysts obsess over flashy scorers and new impact players from coast to coast. Who will be the difference at World Cup? Who will make the clutch snitch catch or score the go-ahead goal? Predictions and speculations about the World Cup litter quidditch articles and discussion. However,  when the dust clears, Monroe has clearly claimed the Most Valuable Player award and quidditch analysts collectively shrug and move on. With the entire quidditch community gathered around one pitch, how has Monroe’s World Cup championship game dominance escaped the spotlight? Indeed, Monroe is the ultimate silent assassin. Projecting a cool confidence, the quidditch community expects Monroe to dance through defenses and pick out the perfect pass. For three consecutive years, Monroe has jogged onto the pitch and seized control of an evenly-matched championship game. By World Cup VIII, it was entirely predictable and mind-bogglingly unbelievable deja vu.

At World Cups VII and VIII Monroe’s heroics verged on hero-balling. However, Monroe’s hero-balling never seems like a desperate attempt to cover up his teammates shortcomings. Monroe takes the temperature of the opposition and jumps into the action at the ideal time. Like a true superstar, Monroe’s heroics always make Texas appear more invincible. Whether it’s the spectacle and pressure of the World Cup or the never-failing loyalty and support of his teammates, Monroe has defied the odds and solidified a preeminent place in quidditch history.

However, history is never clear and certain until it happens. As the seconds ticked away in Rock Hill, Lone Star weathered Monroe’s storm and unleashed a series of well-timed goals to stay in snitch range. All signs still pointed to a Texas three-peat, but reasonable doubts loomed larger with each resilient, high-energy response. For a deep team like Lone Star, crunch-time plays overwhelmingly came from Texas A&M alumni. Players who have been knocked down repeatedly at the World Cup. Players who have chased an elusive championship for years. Players who have felt cheated, outplayed, outmuscled and unlucky. Players who bounce back from adversity year after year. Wasikowski scored twice, defiantly exploding down the side of the pitch. DuPont lunged for loose balls. Was it a desperate hunger to avoid falling short? Or was it a liberating, nothing-can-hurt-me-now feeling of invincibility?

At the end of the day, Wasikowski and DuPont left without a championship trophy. Yet, World Cup VIII was not a loss for Texas A&M’s tortured alumni. Texas A&M alumni weathered a blistering performance from Monroe and answered with grit. Thanks to Wasikowski, DuPont and Lensing, Lone Star and Texas were neck and neck. In crunch time, Texas A&M alumni carried the flag for Lone Star. For the first time since World Cup V, the quidditch community enjoyed a snitch range championship game. Texas A&M alumni stepped up and exceeded expectations without winning the World Cup.

Overall, World Cup VIII belonged to Texas. Overcoming opponents, injuries and graduations, Texas hoisted three straight championship snitchsocks into the World Cup air. As Texas stormed the pitched, smiled for pictures and lit the tower, the quidditch community contemplated the future of the Texas dynasty. Next fall, throngs of athletes will show up for tryouts. Newer faces will step into leadership roles. Undoubtedly, Texas will have the athleticism and hunger to win a fourth consecutive championship. But will they have the composure? Mr. Clutch will be gone. The Texas dynasty could become the Augustine Monroe dynasty, a de facto Longhorn dynasty extended by the Texas Cavalry. Or the Texas dynasty could be finished. For the first time in quidditch history, a defending World Cup champion could be dethroned at the World Cup. Lone Star QC and Texas State University will be back. Whatever the future holds, the continuity of the Texas dynasty has defined the past three years of quidditch. The Texas dynasty has been fun to watch.