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?


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