The Eighth Man

The Rise and Fall of Middlebury

Middlebury lines up for a game at the IQA Northeast Regional Championship. Credit: Molly St. Clair

 

On November 17th, 2012 at the Northeast Regional Championship, the world stood absolutely still. While teams like Boston University and Hofstra University dominated and announced their legitimacy to the IQA community, there were also a few other pleasant surprises from pool play. The Boston Riot had put themselves in a good position to sneak into the World Cup and NYU came out of nowhere with an impressive set of first games. However, there was one team that everyone was talking about.

 

Middlebury didn’t survive the first day.

 

In April, for the first time in IQA history, there will be a new World Cup champion.

 

Middlebury, of course, created this game. Without them, this community that we’ve all come to love and obsess over might not even exist. To them, we owe everything. And yet, the world couldn’t help but act a little overjoyed that, for once, there would be no Middlebury at this year’s World Cup. However, they’re the one team that changed everything.

 

There have been five world cups and at the end of the tournament each year, it has been Middlebury hoisting our makeshift trophy while the rest of the world was forced to look on. Eyes fixated on their celebrations, the IQA community has made it their number one goal to dethrone the kings of our sport. At World Cup 4, I was a freshman on the Emerson College Quidditch team. I played only fifteen seconds at that weekend and I was still dreading the moment they took the title. What stuck with me to this day was what my coach, Michael Gray, used to tell us.

 

“Do you think Middlebury is practicing in the rain right now? No, they aren’t! We are the only team in the world that can beat Middlebury, but we have to want it.”

 

You see, the entire world wasn’t playing Quidditch to win a championship; they were playing to beat Middlebury. Beating Middlebury was the only way to be considered the winner. For better or for worse, the road to glory ran right through Middlebury. Emerson lost that year in the quarterfinals to Tufts and our team sobbed in our tents for over an hour. We weren’t entirely sad that we lost on a scoring miscalculation, we were sad that we didn’t get another shot at Middlebury.

 

Of course, that was a different Middlebury. The next year, they came in as underdogs and many people believe that they had absolutely no shot of winning a fifth straight title. With new elite powerhouses like Texas A&M, Kansas and Florida, there was no way the little liberal arts school could pull it off once more.

 

They lost, but not in the finals. In fact, their unfortunate snitch snatch loss against Michigan in pool play was impossibly bad timing. A quaffle goal mere milliseconds before UM pulled the snitch sent waves across Randall’s Island: they were beatable. Word of their loss, no matter how unlucky, spread like wildfire and teams were giddy with excitement. This was the year!

 

Then there was Marquette. In an event that will live in infamy, bracket creators stopped the game between Middlebury and Marquette in the round of sixteen after it had already started. As the story goes, Marquette was well on their way to a dominating performance and earning their title as the first team to ever eliminate Middlebury from a tournament. The bracket was re-made and instead of losing, Middlebury slipped by Boston University and pulled their snitches on the way to another improbable finals appearance once more.

 

“I hated that they got a second chance,” said Curtis Taylor, current Marquette University captain.

 

They made they the most of a second chance and won their unprecedented fifth title in a row. The community was fuming, how could they do it again? They didn’t even create an all-star team from tryouts like most other teams. Infamously, Middlebury always created their tournament team a week before the World Cup based on the winner of their house league. That only made the losses worse.

 

Vowing revenge, the IQA looked towards spring semester. Champions Series came in April and Middlebury decided to attend. Excitement began cropping up that Middlebury was actually going to compete in a tournament outside of the World Cup. Until now, it was mostly unheard of and teams were euphoric at the opportunity to see them face off once more against Emerson, BU, Villanova and Minnesota. Then, they hardly even sent a team at all. Middlebury’s team consisted of one senior and the rest of their single digit roster were freshman.

 

The Mattapan Muppets, the original Boston Riot team, eliminated them and became the first team ever to knock them out of a tournament, but it seemed hollow. That wasn’t the Middlebury that the world had come to fear. It wasn’t anything close. Most of IQA became irrationally upset, speaking upon notions of disrespect and hatred for Middlebury’s skeleton team—harboring even more loathing for the team that dominated the sport.

 

Everyone hated them for winning, but we still hated them when they lost.

 

Finally, this story culminated in an anti-climatic ending on November 17th, 2012. Throughout the fall season, Middlebury underwhelmed to the impossibly high standards set for them. They lost to UVM and McGill’s B team in October, most considered them done. Some believed that it was a classic Middlebury trick and that a superstar team would show up to regionals to dominate and show the haters they there were still the undisputed champions.

 

The last dominoes fell after losses to Emerson, Vassar College and Stony Brook University and then it was official: Middlebury would not be going to the World Cup. There would be no second chance. There would be no redemption for every team that had ever lost to Middlebury. Middlebury changed everything for a final time in November.

 

Of course, reactions were mixed.

 

“All of a sudden really, they’re not only out of the conversation, they’re out of the competition.” Jackson Maher, an Emerson College junior remarked, “Now, it’s just Emerson and a bunch of gigantic schools. It’s just kind of sad to me. I hope that they can make a comeback.”

 

For every person who jumped up and down upon Middlebury’s elimination, there were just as many who realized what the sport really lost. The sport lost a champion, at least for this year. Their elimination means that there will undoubtedly be a new winner come April. But are they really a champion if they didn’t go through Middlebury?

 

“It’s sad that people won’t have the opportunity to close the book on an old era.” Curtis Taylor said.

 

Other theorists say that Middlebury never wanted to continue playing Quidditch at such high level. Rumors swirled that Middlebury wanted to go out on top and say that they never lost in a tournament setting such as the World Cup.  Once the game grew so much, so fast, they wanted out. Middlebury always claims that this wasn’t the sport that they created.

 

Perhaps, there is something to talk about there. We’ve revolutionized a sport from a fictional book and in a matter of years made it a worldwide phenomenon, but at what cost? Most of the teams that played for the fun, whimsical nature of it all are nearly gone. It was survival of the fittest, and once the big universities caught wind, many smaller colleges had no chance. We’ve all heard the stories from Middlebury, that it was just a fun game to play to pass the time.

 

Look at us now. Look at us and see how far we’ve come from nothing. Quidditch is an international hit, and it is undeniably Middlebury’s doing. Yet, all these years, teams have put targets on their backs. Beat them and you win. Well, we finally did, but did we win anything?

 

On Novemeber 17th, 2012, the fall of Middlebury was complete. Everything has changed in one fell swoop and Middlebury will not be competing at the next World Cup. From here on out, the culture of Quidditch will be forever different, even if Middlebury qualifies next year. If this is what we’ve wanted for six years, why aren’t we happier?

16 Comments

  1. Irvin Badassilisk

    December 6, 2012 at 2:14 am

    This is a really great article, and one I totally agreed with. I remembered how much fun my teammates and I had speculating to whom MIddlebury would finally fall. Would it be Texas A&M, who came so very close last Cup? Vassar, their first ever opponent? Some new team with a cinderella story like Tufts in 2010? And while seeing Vassar beat Middlebury at Regionals was a really great moment, not having them at the Cup to defend the title (hell, not having them in Day 2 of Regionals to even try and qualify!) is somewhat sad.

  2. Chris Beesley

    December 6, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Great, great article. I hope they choose to compete in Division II. World Cup without a Middlebury presence doesn’t seem like a World Cup to us old-timers.

    • Dan Miller

      December 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

      If the five time World Champion competes in Division II then I think we can officially throw out the “Division II isn’t for competition” line.

      • Canto

        December 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

        I really hope they come. I met a lot of their players at the fort and they were fantastic people.

        Great article.

      • Ethan Sturm

        Ethan Sturm

        December 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm

        Middlebury is arguably the most anti-structured competition team in the IQA. They weren’t one bit competitive at Northeast Regionals. How can you judge a team on what they once were?

      • Erin Mallory

        December 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

        The Middlebury that was at NE Regionals was not a competitive team. They were there for fun and seem to be exactly what D2 is suppose to be this year.
        Just cause they are from the school that has won the WC 5 times doesn’t mean their team still has the same ideals…

  3. Anonymous

    December 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I liked the article but I think you may be exaggerating the situation a little bit. Yes Middlebury lost out, and it was pretty shocking to say the least, but it was not because they magically became worst, it’s because they lost a lot of there team mates and had to replace them with new players which hampered them. I’m not sure if I am using the term correctly, but they just going through a rebuilding season, if this happens over and over again, then I would say the Middlebury dominance is over, but right now it’s premature for Curtis to be saying that. Also, I have to disagree with anyone who thinks that just because Middleburry is not going to be playing in D1, the champions are going to be missing some legitimacy since they did not beat them, bull, this world cup is probably going to be one of the most intense since the throne is open for someone new, which means every D1 team is going to be going in to win it. Sure, the champs are not going to be facing Middleburry, but in order to win the world cup they are going to need to get past every other D1 team who wants it just as badly at them.

    • Alan Black

      December 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      The fact that they had almost no continuity and that their departing seniors didn’t train younger players to pass on the torch makes it highly doubtful that they will be an elite program again for some while. Elite programs create a structure that continues on regardless of who graduates each year. Middlebury obviously didn’t do that. It appears that Middlebury themselves are responsible for their dramatic fall, and that it’s a problem that won’t go away anytime soon.

  4. Evan Bell

    December 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Wow, this was an article that I didn’t think I was going to agree with. But it’s incredibly thought-provoking.

  5. David

    December 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    I would like to respond by asking a question, what has quidditch gained in 5 years? Yes Middlebury lost and it is shocking to say the least. Once I started playing last year I had dreams of playing against them and emerging triumphant, a part of the first team to dethrone Middlebury. Now while that dream is gone a new one has emerged, to create a dynasty like what Middlebury had, to be, for years, the undisputed best of the game and with how many teams we have internationally, truly the best in the world. Middlebury gave us the chance to meet people from around the world, last year I met people from Finland and Canada and next I will hopefully meet people from at least 5 different countries! Yes the times of us all running around with capes on swiffer brooms or lamp posts are behind us, but we have a friendly competitive atmosphere where we can get hundreds of people together and after its all done, have pokemon battles, magic the gathering, play munchkin or just relax and talk about whatever or nothing.

    Do I think quidditch has gotten more competitive, yes. But is that a bad thing, I don’t think so. Every sport,, and yes I consider quidditch a sport, when at tournaments we can have broken bones, concussions and spinal injuries its a sport, evolves and it will eventually end up somewhere but for now we all just need to roll with the punches and ride it out.

  6. Tylor Starr

    December 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    All of my years of leading a quidditch team there was always one question I could answer: Which team is the best? This question came up more than once while recruiting new members and I was always able to say, at the drop of a hat, Middlebury.

    I respect Middlebury and will never forget what they have done for our community.

    Regarding this article: one of the BEST quidditch articles I have ever read. Great job! <3

  7. Chris Beesley

    December 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    One last thing: Middlebury created the monster that ultimately destroyed it. They were — for several years — the MOST athletic, the MOST competitive, the MOST professionally dressed and the MOST physical team in quidditch. That is why they were dominant. Because other teams matched their ante and followed their lead, we really shouldn’t feel sorry for them. I’m not sure what else they expected. It’s only recently — when they felt vulnerable — that you started to hear grumblings about taking the competition piece too far.

    It is interesting, though, to see that tide turn. Perhaps the league as a whole will go through a similar mid-life crisis in 2-3 years where the pendulum swings back to the less competitive, more “just for the fun of it” quidditch style?

  8. Justin Bogart

    December 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Loved the article. Having witnessed the evolution of the sport from its infancy (I am one of those old-timers that Chris speaks of), I think it has come a long way. And I love it. I mean there were only two teams at WC I. Now there will be teams from all over the world. That is pretty amazing. I will continue to be a part of it for the love of the game. And I will be wearing my old Midd gear at WC VI with pride.

  9. Bob Seger

    December 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks Middlebury should have an automatic bid to the world cup, considering they won last year? The top 4 teams at least all should, imo.

  10. Matthew Dwyer

    December 15, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Great article, but there’s one thing that bothers me here. Where are the quotes from Middlebury players? Where are the names of the seniors they lost? How many of us can name more than 3 Middlebury alumni? How many of us can name even one person on their current team? I mean, I love looking at this retrospectively. It’s very cool and interesting to read. But we talk about them like they’re some ancient civilization or something, and we don’t have any specifics. Maybe this is just me, but I want to know how Middlebury feels about this, you know? What do their current players think? What does their captain think? Treating them as current people and not as ancient legend would be so interesting.

    As bitter as that sounded even though I didn’t want it to, this really is a great article, and I will agree with Evan, it is quite thought provoking.

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