Growing up, many of you probably partook in the Harry Potter series, myself included. Whether it was through the books, the film series, video games or even the numerous parks at Universal Studios, the magic of the wizarding world took the world by storm. They captured the imagination of mages and muggles alike and it also captured a group of fans who wanted to make the sport of quidditch a reality.
For those who don’t know, quidditch is a dangerous but popular sport played by witches and wizards riding flying broomsticks within the Harry Potter universe. Matches are played on a large pitch with three ring-shaped goals of different heights on each side, between two opposing teams of seven players: three Chasers, two Beaters, the Keeper, and the Seeker.
The Chasers and the Keeper respectively score with and defend the goals against the Quaffle; the two Beaters bat the Bludgers away from their teammates and towards their opponents; and the Seeker locates and catches the Golden Snitch, whose capture simultaneously wins the Seeker’s team 150 points and ends the game. The team with the most points at the end wins.
While the rules seem a bit complicated, what was even harder for fans of the series was the fact that brooms can’t, you know, fly on their own. Thankfully, in 2005, students at Middlebury College were able to adapt the sport for everyone to play.
Real-life quidditch incorporates a mix of elements from basketball, rugby and dodgeball. All players keep brooms between their legs at all times. There are six to seven players on the field at any one time but rosters include up to 21 players per game. The Chasers use a slightly deflated volleyball for the quaffle to score goals on one of three hoops with each goal being worth 10 points. Each team has a keeper who defends the hoops.
The two Beaters use dodgeballs for bludgers to disrupt the flow of the game by “knocking out” other players. Any player hit by a bludger is out of play until they touch their own hoops. Finally, each team also has a seeker who tries to catch the snitch. The snitch is a ball attached to the waistband of the snitch runner, a neutral party in a yellow uniform who uses any means to evade capture, which is worth 35 points. With the rules in place, quidditch became a sport for those who anyone wanted to participate and have fun. In fact, when I was a student at the University of Akron, there was a club quidditch team that had a dedicated, passionate set of members.
Naturally, as the sport grew, so did the passion for it – which led to the formation of Major League Quidditch or MLQ for short. MLQ is a co-ed league that was founded in 2015 with eight teams from the eastern United States and Canada. It now features 15 teams and one trial expansion team, the Charlotte Aviators. Like many of the top professional and semi-professional leagues in other sports, MLQ is the highest level of quidditch in North America. MLQ is unlike any previous quidditch league because its teams are all league-owned and feature some of the top collegiate quidditch players.
The Cleveland Riff, Cleveland’s professional quidditch team, are looking to create a fun, inclusive enviorment for all. Photo credit: Cleveland Riff
Of the 15 MLQ teams participating today, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio is represented by the Cleveland Riff. The Riff, who were founded as one of the league’s eight inaugural teams, has struggled out the gates and started the season winless. To open things up, Cleveland fell to the Toronto Raiders in a three-game sweep across the border in Canada. It was the first series in Canada since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the 2020 season was canceled and the two Canadian franchises in the league could not participate last year because of border restrictions.
The Riff soon after opened things up at home at Cleveland State’s Krenzler Field. While Cleveland fought its hardest they were once again victims to a three-game sweep, this time at the hands of the Rochester Whiteout. Historically, the Riff typically struggles out the gate on a season-to-season basis. But, they are prone to an upset from time to time, including being the only team to defeat the eventual division champion Minneapolis Monarchs in 2021.
While winning would be nice for the Riff this season, it’s not the only thing for Cleveland. In the end, having fun is what matters most and the Riff and their players are no exception to this. More than anything, Cleveland wants to create a fun, inclusive environment that invites anyone to play with them no matter their gender, identity or orientation.
“There’s no other sport like us,” said Cleveland Chaser Melinda Staup. “Other sports are segregated between genders and that doesn’t leave room for don’t fall along with the binary gender guidelines as well, which is really unfortunate. But, in this sport, we create space for that as well which is really cool.
“As a female player, I feel through the history of the sport that maybe male players overshadowed female players since it’s a full-contact sport. But, as the league has made a concentrated effort to make room for their female and nonbinary players, I feel like I’ve really gotten to shine.”
In December 2021, Major League Quidditch announced with US Quidditch, a governing body for the sport in the United States, that they had launched a joint process to rename the game of real-life quidditch, in part because of what has been said by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling in recent years. Rowling has made numerous comments and has been rightfully criticized for her anti-trans positions. LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign as well as the three lead actors in the Harry Potter film series have criticized her stances and, because of this, MLQ, as well as teams like the Riff, have distanced themselves from Rowling in order to create a more inclusive environment for all.
“It’s non-negotiable for us,” said Jack McGovern, MLQ Media Outreach Coordinator. “Being an inclusive league for anyone and everyone is what matters to us the most at the end of the day. There are so many individuals who are passionate about the game of quidditch, who are we to keep them away?”
“I always felt that sports are sports,” said Riff Utility player Ben Strauss. “It doesn’t matter what gender you align with, you should be able to play on the same field.”
Not only will the name change for the league help further drive home the MLQ’s overall message of inclusivity, but it’ll also help them become more of a household name. The sport is looking to continue to grow like any other game that have started from humble origins. The game commonly known as ultimate frisbee is officially called ultimate, in part because “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy, the company that invented the piece of equipment.
“I believe quidditch is at a turning point. We can continue the status quo and stay relatively small, or we can make big moves and really propel this sport forward into its next phase,” said USQ Executive Director Mary Kimball.
If the MLQ were able to change its name, then the opportunities would be endless for the league and teams like Cleveland. But, before anything can reach those heights, it still needs to spread its wings and learn how to fly. If interested and able, you can support MLQ financially through Patreon. Direct support from fans are able to help further fund things and help the league continue to blossom and reach new heights.
If Clevelanders want to check out and support the Riff, then follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up with their latest. You can also support the club financially as well by purchasing team apparel through the league’s affiliate. More than anything, just come out to watch the Riff whenever you can. The next time they play will be at the North Division Championship in South Bend, Indiana where they will try to compete for the North Divison crown as well as a big to the 2022 MLQ Championship. Tickets can be purchased here and are starting only at $10.
I first discovered the Riff after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Chicago Bulls in late March. When I was packing up my things in the press box, I noticed a group of grown adults in full uniform with broomsticks between their legs and was enchanted soon after realizing it was real-life quidditch. It reminded me of when I first read Harry Potter as a kid and how the magic then swept me away.
Spending time with the Riff and the community surrounding showed me a fun, inclusive, unique pocket of Cleveland sports that’s unapologetically itself, which they wouldn’t have any other way. As they continue to grow alongside the sport of quidditch, or whatever it becomes after the name change, it’ll become even more special. Be sure to follow along – it’s truly magical.
Featured image credit: Major League Quidditch
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!