The Eighth Man

No Country for Old Men: Community Team Struggles at the Elite Level

Author’s Note: For the purposes of this article, discussion of community teams will be restricted to teams completely unaffiliated with a school. This excludes teams like the Boston Riot, who function as a second Emerson team, Carolinas QC, which was a mercenary team from different Carolina teams, and the Crimson Fliers, who have a core based largely out of the University of Utah.

 

After a strong fall season highlighted by a win at the Zombie Tournament that they hosted, the New York Badassilisks came up short of a World Cup bid at the Northeast Regionals. Credit: Michael E. Mason

After a strong fall season highlighted by a win at the Zombie Tournament that they hosted, the New York Badassilisks came up short of a World Cup bid at the Northeast Regionals. Credit: Michael E. Mason

Three whistles sounded. Harvard University had caught the snitch, ending the New York Badassilisks’ tournament and a chance at qualifying for Div. I at World Cup VI.

 

The Badasslisks are one of the oldest, most well-established community teams in the country, with multiple World Cups under their belts, including a run to the semifinals in Div. II of World Cup V. To many, the Badasslisks were the most likely community team to qualify for the upcoming World Cup, and their failure has created doubt that any community team will be capable of achieving such a lofty goal.

 

Logically speaking, if quidditch is ever to expand to a national stage and become more than a silly college game, the development of more community teams, which give those out of college a chance to join the community or continue to play the game they love, will be vital. And, as more and more players graduate, these teams should become stronger and stronger by picking up experienced, talented players from top-flight programs, particularly in quidditch-saturated areas like Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

 

But, this season, both community teams that have gone to regionals so far have failed to qualify. Steel City Quidditch Club was bounced from the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in the final qualifying round, while the Badassilisks went out in the first round of bracket play in the Northeast Regional.

 

“We expected to be competitive in every match and to take a World Cup berth,” says Clay Dockery, coach of the Badasslisks, “While being fun, friendly, enthusiastic and showcasing that the sport can continue for everyone else past college.”

 

The Badasslisks were knocked out by Harvard and ended their tournament two wins from qualifying for the cup. But they also had a roster with just three players with past experience playing for a college team.

 

Steel City, on the other hand, is a community team situated in Pittsburgh, Pa., and their Mid-Atlantic Regional roster consisted of 17 players, the vast majority of whom played, if not starred, in college at very respectable programs, including Pittsburgh, Penn State and Chestnut Hill.  But they fell short as well, eliminated in a best-of-three matchup with Virginia Commonwealth University.

 

“We expected to go 4-1 or 3-2 and then qualify for the World Cup at around the 7th seed,” says Matt Panico, founder and president of Steel City.  We see a similar theme from both of these teams: both came in with strong, though not elite expectations, and both failed to finish as well as they would have liked.

 

“We actually acquitted ourselves well,” Dockery added. “Our only blowout loss was the champions from [Boston University], and two of our losses – the elimination match with Harvard and our match with World Cup qualifier [Rochester Institute of Technology] – were lost on snitch catches while we had the lead on the pitch.”

 

Panico, while confident his team had the skill to qualify, feels as though they failed to take advantage of it.

 

“We weren’t cohesive enough as a team to really take advantage of our individual skill,” he said.  “Having put a lot of our team together at the last minute meant that we didn’t have enough time to practice together.”

 

It doesn’t help that the quantity of community teams at tournaments this fall was surprisingly low. The Badassisks and Steel City are two of the strongest community team, but two others with a history of results – the Ives Pond Quidditch Club and the Toms River Hydras – didn’t compete this year. Ives Pond was unable to go to the regional tournament, while Toms River has largely disbanded. This left the Badasslisks, Steel City and CAMPS as the only pure community teams to actually play in regionals thus far.

 

So is there some natural disadvantage that hurts these community teams in their attempts to qualify? Are community teams simply doomed to never be able to play at an elite level?

 

Well, captains of community teams have no trouble pinpointing some of the biggest challenges they face.

 

“There’s no pool of people to recruit from each year,” says Sam Fischgrund, founder and co-captain of the Silicon Valley Skrewts, who operate out of the Bay Area in California. “Colleges have events that showcase clubs to freshmen, but there’s not a group of people to recruit from for community teams.”

 

“In college, there’s a pool of people looking for a combination of activities and friends to distract from schoolwork,” added Dan Hanson, founder and captain of The Lost Boys in Los Angeles. “There are so many recruiting, advertising, and fundraising advantages in a college. We simply don’t have the recruiting tools to draw those athlete types and to suck in new talent who will just happen to get hooked.  We’re pretty much drawing from people who were hooked elsewhere.”

 

According to Hanson, there’s also a struggle to get ex-college players to join, even though his team has been one of the most successful at doing so.

 

“People just seem to move on from quidditch mentally far too often,” he said.

 

In addition to recruiting issues, community teams also struggle with finding consistent time to practice and improve. Without a regular schedule, it can be difficult to remain competitive with college teams in today’s game.

 

“It’s difficult for a community team to have as many practices and as much attendance as that of a college team, due to community teams spanning a greater area and having more varied schedules,” Fischgrund said.

 

“On a local level, maintaining interest and scheduling around competing schedules is the hardest,” Panico added. “It’s one thing when everyone has different exam schedules in the undergrad setting; once we start to have “real” lives it gets so much more complicated.”

 

For Dockery, the issue moves beyond scheduling to other issues of organization.

 

“[It’s difficult] not having the infrastructure and money that can come from being officially affiliated with an institution,” he explained. “Even teams that do not have “official” support from their schools often have access to fields, buildings, equipment, and communication systems that we simply will never have.

 

Finally, community teams can struggle with defining what they are and what their purpose is.  To some degree, the easiest people to recruit are going to be passionate Harry Potter fans. But the intersection between that fanbase and athletes tends to be small.

 

Outside of that recruiting pool, it can be difficult to find people who are willing to commit the time athletically.

 

“Finding a way to balance the internal conflict between those who want us to be at the very top of the game and those who are new to sports entirely and are just starting out,” Dockery said when asked about what the most difficult part of running a community team is. “With us, this issue is pervasive because our pool of potential players – those who actually find out about us – is very small.”

 

Fischgrund sees a similar issue, both in terms of finding people and convincing them it’s a serious sport:

 

“Almost no one has seen or heard of the sport, and with people older than about 25, almost no one has read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies,” he said. “So it’s very difficult to convince them that quidditch is a serious sport and a fun sport and a sport that they should try playing, especially when they hear about the brooms.”

 

But not all hope is lost for community teams, as there are some significant advantages that will continue to benefit such teams in the coming years.

 

“We have a much larger available recruiting pool, if we can figure out a way to reach it,” Panico said.

 

“We have lots of potential to play, lots of great players from current college teams joining us all the time, and the chance to compete against the very best teams,” Dockery added. “The greatest advantage we have is definitely the ability to be the team for the “entire city,” which means recruiting from all the schools and professionals, as well as really getting lots of support from individuals all over the area.”

 

There is also the inherent benefit of not having to turn your roster over completely every four years. “All the players on my team are committed for the long haul,” Hanson said. “It’s not just a thing they’re doing because you’re supposed to do weird stuff outside of classes during college.  We are there because we all love quidditch and want to play.”

 

Time still remains to get a true community team qualified for the World Cup, with three American regionals still to come in the spring. Arlington Quidditch has been forming Texas, and they are expected to make a push for a spot in the Southwest Regionals. The West is arguably the most-developed in terms of community team, with established sides like the Skrewts and Lost Boys accompanied by younger teams like the Hollywood Harpies and O.C. Oblivators.  All of these teams will face tough roads, but it seems likely that at least one of them will be able to punch a ticket into Div. I at the World Cup.

 

“We believe that there are four World Cup spots in the West that are up for grabs among six-to-eight solid contending teams,” Hanson says of the Western Regionals. “We think we deserve one of our regional spots, but we’re well aware that if we let our guard down, and don’t play our best, another team could take that spot easily.”

 

With the perceived imbalance right now between community teams and college teams, one could make the argument that the IQA should step in and more closely regulate the compositions of teams in order to tilt the balance in favor of the developing core of community squads. But, when asked, the community team captains unanimously agreed that nothing needs to be done right now.

 

“I don’t think anything can really be done on an administrative level,” Panico said. “If quidditch as a whole had more exposure, community teams would be able to recruit more effectively within our cities. Community teams should focus on establishing themselves in social and traditional media.”

 

“I do hope that we continue to be accepted and allowed to play against all the existing teams of every type,” Dockery said. “I think that as more grads come to community teams, that will help as well.”

 

Community teams, in their current iterations, are struggling to gain traction at the highest level of quidditch competition. But it seems like many of their biggest disadvantages will be quickly offset by massive advantages in recruiting and player longevity.

 

In the long term, if the number of community teams continue to grow and quidditch continues to gain more exposure, community teams should be able to healthily compete with even the top tier of college teams, perhaps one day even striking out past the college teams and into their own semi-professional league.

 

But, right now, community teams will need to overcome the disadvantages they face if they hope to punch a valuable ticket to the World Cup.

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