Sports

For Love of the Game: It's a B.C. Homecoming for Canada's Quidditch coaches

Hugh Podmore, who went to high school in South Surrey, B.C., had his Craigslist ad and photos like these go viral last year, when he was searching for an apartment in Toronto. - Imgur/Hugh Podmore
Hugh Podmore, who went to high school in South Surrey, B.C., had his Craigslist ad and photos like these go viral last year, when he was searching for an apartment in Toronto.
— image credit: Imgur/Hugh Podmore

Call it another case of life imitating art.

You may know that J.K. Rowling's Quidditch is now a real sport. You might just play Quidditch, which means you're either going to like this article or you're going to pfft at it, like I do when I watch The Newsroom.

And you may even know the Global Games – an eight-nation championship pitting Canada against the United States, the UK, France, and others – is coming to Burnaby in three months.

"My goal that I've set, when I started out on this was, Canada fully has the ability to beat the United States," says Hugh Podmore, the coach of our Muggle national team. "We have just as much talent as they do."

The United States are the defending Global Games champions, coming off their victory at the 2012 tournament. (The Global Games pits country vs country, making it more like the Quidditch World Cup you saw in The Goblet of Fire. There is a Quidditch World Cup, too, which pits club teams from around the world against each other.)

And Podmore – who was raised in South Surrey and attended Southridge School – has been tasked with rounding up an East-West squad. Tryouts will be held in May – in Kingston, Ontario and in Vancouver – and Podmore is in charge of the team's selection, its strategy, lines, and everything to do with the actual on-field playing of the game, he says.

"All the Eastern teams share secrets, we share our skills," he said, on the phone from Toronto in March. "I imagine the West is the same way."

(When Podmore says the Eastern teams, he's referring to a collection of university teams and club teams, like his own Valhalla Quidditch club in Toronto and the campus squad at McGill, Carleton, and the Uniteversity of Otttawa. There are also teams at Western University, McMaster, Guelph, Ryerson, York, Queen's, and Algonquin College.)

Rebecca Alley is the coach of the Ottawa Gee-Gees team and is Podmore's assistant coach on Team Canada.

"It's very hockey and soccer-based," she says of the sports' fast and frenzied pace, and of her team in Ottawa. "We play a very fast game and try to avoid hitting when possible.

"A lot of the Canadians will have a 'hockey' style, and the Texans will play a football style. They'll just slow it right down."

Both Alley and Podmore are from B.C. Alley is from Burnaby and her parents still live in the city, and Podmore – originally from England – was also raised in the Lower Mainland, as mentioned above.

That makes this next Global Games a homecoming of sorts for both – and hopefully, a triumphant one. In addition to the former axis powers in Britain, France, and America, Canada will also take on Belgium, Italy, Australia, and Mexico.

Alley says her Gee-Gees team has moved away from that typically Canadian "straight-up hockey style" and she's found success with that.

But whether Canada follows the same template, one thing is clear… Quidditch is as exhausting as it is adored. A labour of love.

"You end up pulling about three-minute shifts out on the field, long distance shuttle runs for minutes at a time," says Podmore. "The turnaround and the counter-attack is a very interesting aspect of it… the passing game is difficult and fast."

Podmore played rugby in high school, but mostly soccer and ultimate frisbee. He transitioned to Quidditch while at McGill University in Montreal, which started its program six years ago.

"They were always playing on the downtown campus," he says, adding that "it was pretty funny" at first, watching the early adopters running around with brooms between their legs, hucking dodgeballs back and forth.

But it wasn't just the physicality of the sport that drew him in. It was, as it so often is, the people.

"What I realized was, the Quidditch people that make up that community are just some of the greatest people I've ever had the privilege to know," he said. "It's incredibly open, incredibly friendly, and non-discriminatory."

(Podmore's love for Quidditch is well-documented, as photos like the one above went viral on Toronto's Reddit page, when he compiled a personalized slideshow to advertise himself, while looking for a roommate.)

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Canada Quidditch photo

Team Canada celebrates on the Quidditch field, brooms and snitch (that's that yellow tube sock thing) in hand. (Photo: Canada Quidditch on Facebook)

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Quidditch is the world's only full-contact co-ed sport.

Rules say you have to have two members of different genders – male, female, or another – on the field at one time.

"The weirdness of the sport was really intriguing," says Tegan Bridge, who founded the University of Ottawa's team.

"It's a really fun group of people. The game's really fun… the people it attracts."

"Girls quit sports because they have a lot more social needs than sports," says Alley. "Even as a coach in Quidditch, that becomes apparent.

"A lot of the times, the girls are weaker than the guys initially… but then they absolutely flourish as athletes, because they're in an environment and they feel safe."

Alley says she got involved in Quidditch because she was an athlete – placing her decidedly on one side of the split fence when it comes to the game's loyalists.

"I do enjoy Harry Potter, but until the team sat me down and forcibly made me watch all of them, I hadn't seen them," she says. "I'm definitely coming at it from much more of an athletic perspective.

"Harry Potter is great for the community aspect and great for the marketing perspective."

Bridge, however, is a part of the other faction – the Potter fan base that takes to the game like Ron Weasley takes to his mother's care packages.

"I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and I thought it would be something cool to see," she says of how she first got involved with the sport. "That link is always going to be there. The brooms are one of the connections to the original.

"I think most people are moving away from it being just Harry Potter's sport and it's becoming its own thing."

Quidditch wouldn't be the first sport to start under (seemingly) odd and goofy circumstances. Take Canada's most popular homegrown sports, for example. Basketball started out with fruit baskets… baskets that didn't have a hole in the bottom.

And hockey… well, try being the first person to explain to someone that you had invented a game where you laced up ice skates, found a frozen pound and glided around with overside golf clubs in your hand, and one guy volunteered to have a rock-hard rubber disc shot at him.

For Podmore, he hopes Quidditch can continue to build itself into an on-campus institution, much like what ultimate is now – a familiar and popular cultural staple embedded into college life.

"We are here at this time, setting the tone for what I certainly hope will go onto be one of the major university campus sports," he says, while admitting he doesn't see it becoming a varsity program, not yet. "I would like to see that level of acknowledgement and acceptance from the campus community."

He envies McGill right now, with its intramural Quidditch program and the school's adoption of the sport and its culture.

And Podmore is proud of where the sport came from – the books, the movies, and the brain of J.K. Rowling.

"I'm fully supportive of it maintaining the relationship with Harry Potter," he says. "It's silly to try and distance yourself from that. You can't have a sport like Quidditch and expect them to take it 100 per cent seriously.

"But that's fine and, at the end of the day, we're out there to play and have fun.

"I don't think where it came from makes it any less legitimate."

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McMaster vs Valhalla Toronto - Quidditch

Valhalla Quidditch (black) takes on McMaster University's team, with the Toronto skyline and the CN Tower as their background. (Photo: Valhalla Quidditch on Facebook)

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Podmore says he loves bringing new athletes to Quidditch, especially ones that come from other sports.

"They come in, sometimes a bit unprepared for the physical aspect," he says, although he admits the broom is the initial mental hurdle for most.

"The broom, probably, is what people have the hardest time getting over, but once you do, you just don't think about it," he says. "You can run just as fast with one as without one."

Alley agrees.

"The broom is surprisingly easy to run with, once you're used to it," she says. "But one of the biggest hurdles, for the guys, is that they have to tackle girls.

"All of us know what we're getting into and we're okay with it… the guys have grown up and they can't tackle a girl, but then the girl runs around you and scores a goal."

Athletes come from hockey, football, rugby, and soccer, as well as other club sports and programs, from kayaking to ultimate and beyond.

"You don't have to have it just be this athletic game or this super nerdy thing," says Bridge. "Quidditch is best when it's in between those two things."

"The people who are attracted to Quidditch are not your typical jocks," echoes Alley.

"We describe ourselves as sort of athletic nerds."

The Quidditch Global Games will take place on July 19, 2014 at Burnaby's Lake Sports Complex West.

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Rebecca Alley and Tegan Bridge

Rebecca Alley (left) and Tegan Bridge head up the Canadian national champions, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Quidditch team. (Photo: Ottawa Gee-Gees on Facebook)

Valhalla Quidditch team in Toronto

The Valhalla Quidditch team, based in Toronto. (Hugh Podmore is in the very front, with the ball in front of his face.) (Photo: Valhalla Quidditch on Facebook/Isabella Gong Photography)

Tegan Bridge playing Quidditch

Tegan Bridge watches Quidditch practice with her Ottawa Gee-Gees, broom on her shoulder. (Photo: Ottawa Gee-Gees on Facebook/DigitalRobin photography)

Ottawa Quidditch

The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Quidditch team. (Rebecca Alley's in the back left.) (Photo: Ottawa Gee-Gees on Facebook/Ben Holland Photography)

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