A big Quidditch tourney is coming to Utah. Here’s how the sport built a gender-inclusive community.

The U.S. Quidditch Cup, featuring nearly 70 teams, will be held in Salt Lake City on April 23 and 24.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nathan Liou uses a bludger (dodgeball) to try and tag Porter Birchum before he redirects a quaffle (volleyball) through a hoop while playing Quittich at Reservoir Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

Gina Allen played basketball in high school, but didn’t like it.

“When I was in high school, team sports never seemed to jibe with me,” Allen said. “I didn’t really feel like I belonged.”

Then, in 2012, she started playing Quidditch — the earthbound version of the sport played on flying brooms in the magic-centered world of the “Harry Potter” book series.

“When I found Quidditch,” she said, “I felt like, ‘Oh, I’ve found a place where I can be an athlete, a nerd, and feel like I belong.’”

Allen is a “chaser,” an offensive player, for Salt Lake Quidditch Club, one of two Utah teams that will compete among dozens from around the country which are scheduled to descend on Salt Lake City this weekend, for the 2022 U.S. Quidditch Cup. The tournament happens Saturday and Sunday, starting at 9 a.m. both days, at the Regional Athletic Complex, 2280 N. Rose Park Lane, on Salt Lake City’s west side.

It’s the first such tournament in the nation since 2019 — thanks, COVID — and the first time teams will vie for the cup west of the Rockies.

Salt Lake Quidditch Club competes at the club level, and was ranked in among the top 15 teams in that division in 2019. Also competing in the tournament is Utah Collegiate Quidditch, a joint team formed because of the pandemic between Utah State Quidditch, from USU, and Utah Raptor Quidditch, the team from the University of Utah. That combined team is ranked third in the West collegiate division going into the tourney.

According to U.S. Quidditch, the sport’s governing body in the United States, the game has been played by Muggles (non-magical people) since 2005. (The sport’s history in the Wizarding World goes back centuries, according to the lore.) This year, some 1,200 athletes play the game on nearly 70 teams, at either the club or collegiate level.

The club team is more community-oriented, and attracts non-students and those not yet in college (players must be at least 17 to join), said Danika Liou, who coaches the beaters for Utah Collegiate.

The Utah teams practice together, and “we can play against each other” at nationals, Liou said, though the results “just don’t count for rankings.”

According to Clay Partain, a managing director of Sports Salt Lake, the event is “estimated to bring in $2.6 million of direct impact.” Partain’s group is co-hosting the tournament, with the Utah Sports Commission.

How the game is played

U.S. Quidditch describes the game as a “full contact, competitive, mixed gender sport,” with seven players to a side, each mounted on brooms — which they are expected to keep in place, between their legs, as they run throughout the game.

Three of the players are “chasers,” who score goals by throwing a “quaffle” (actually a volleyball) through one of three hoops that are mounted on poles. Those goals are worth 10 points each. The hoops are defended by a “keeper,” similar to hockey or soccer. Two players are “beaters,” who throw “bludgers” (think dodgeball) to knock players out; players hit by one of the three bludgers have to run back to touch their team’s goal posts to get back in the game.

After 20 minutes of this, the last member of the team, the “seeker,” must try to catch a “snitch.” In the books and movies, the Golden Snitch is a metal ball with wings that darts around like a hummingbird. In the Muggle version, the snitch is a tennis ball attached to the waistband — like a flag in flag football — of a person wearing yellow shorts, a “snitch runner,” who plays for neither team.

It’s up to the seeker to capture the snitch, a feat that’s worth 35 points. The tricky part is that the snitch runner can touch the seekers, but the seekers can’t touch the runner.

The game ends when a team scores 70 or more points after the snitch runner is released. The team with the most points wins.

There’s no set time limit for a game, so it can be tiring to participate — and even just to watch, because of having to follow so much happening at once. Allen called it “organized chaos.”

Liou said the game isn’t just for fans of “Harry Potter.” “[It’s] all about the sport, because it’s very much its own thing,” she said. “The biggest thing for people who aren’t super into ‘Harry Potter’ is the complexity of the sport. It is such a combination of so many different sports, and requires a lot of strategy.”

Everyone can play

One of the most important aspects of Quidditch is that, unlike most organized team sports, there’s no men’s or women’s team. Quidditch teams are gender-inclusive.

U.S. Quidditch’s “gender maximum rule” requires a team to have no more than four players of the same gender in play at the same time. And, the rule says, “the gender that a player identifies as is considered to be that player’s gender.”

Tom Bautista, a chaser and a coach for Salt Lake Quidditch Club, said, “it’s very important for us that people get to be comfortable here, that they get to be who they are — not who so many other people tell them that they are.”

After the Utah Legislature voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11, the bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in school sports in Utah, U.S. Quidditch issued a statement saying it was “saddened and disappointed” by the vote.

“Trans girls are girls, trans boys are boys, and nonbinary kids are nonbinary,” the organizing body wrote in a Twitter thread on April 7. “They all deserve access to sports in ways that affirm their identity and offer them a safe space to be themselves.”

U.S. Quidditch has spoken out before against states that passed anti-trans laws. It considered withdrawing the 2018 cup tournament from Round Rock, Texas, after that state’s legislature passed an anti-trans “bathroom bill.” In October, U.S. Quidditch said it would reject bids to hold its 2024 cup in West Virginia, after the legislature there passed a sports ban similar to Utah’s.

A group of transgender players from U.S. Quidditch are organizing calls to action to support trans and nonbinary people — and urging players at this weekend’s tournament to wear pink, blue and white athletic tape, the colors of the trans flag.

The organizing body has even distanced itself from the person who created Quidditch, author J.K. Rowling, who has been criticized for comments that critics have called transphobic. U.S. Quidditch’s website clearly states the group is not “affiliated with Rowling or Warner Bros.,” the company that has released the Wizarding World movies and video games.

Bautista, Allen and Liou agree that Quidditch is unlike any other sport — because it’s for nerds, jocks and everyone in between.

That’s fitting, considering the game was introduced in a book that centered on a boy who struggled to find a place where he belonged — until he got to Hogwarts and gained confidence as the youngest Quidditch player to ever play for his house, Gryffindor.

Liou said the two Utah squads do not support HB11 — and have had trans athletes on the team over the years.

“We don’t support excluding people,” Liou said. “One of the best things about Quidditch is how inclusive it is. If we had to split it into male and female, it wouldn’t be the sport that it is.”

Allen, who is in medical school and plans to go into pediatrics, said that part of her practice will involve gender-affirming care — and she can’t wait to tell her patients about Quidditch “if they want to be athletes and feel like they need a place to belong. … I love to tell them that there is a sport for them.”

Tickets for the 2022 U.S. Quidditch Cup can be purchased online, at usquidditchcup.com/tickets, or on site at the Regional Athletic Complex, 2280 N. Rose Park Lane, Salt Lake City. Tickets are $25 for an adult one-day pass, $35 for an adult two-day pass, or $15 for a youth/student pass. A family four-pack, with two adult and two youth/student tickets, is available for $70 for one day, $80 for both days.

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