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.