The Eighth Man

Speaking Out: Beater Injury Prevention

This has been one of the most difficult articles I have ever written about quidditch. Sports injuries are simply not a pretty topic. Watching gut-wrenching twists and tears while listening to ear-piercing screeches on repeat is difficult enough as a neutral onlooker. It is damn near impossible when it is people you know and care about. Almost every night this week, I have laid in bed, my macabre research playing over and over again in my head, unable to sleep.

But having made it through, I have come to one very clear conclusion, one that I am willing to argue to the death. It is a conclusion that, if not dealt with, could have a troubling effect on the future of our sport.

We are not doing enough to protect our female beaters.

Now, before I start,  I am putting in a few disclaimers, because at this point in our community, if I don’t, we will all end up spending hundreds of comments discussing the fringe takeaways of the article instead of the actual point.

First off, there is a reason that I am singling out female beaters. In the upper echelons of the sport, where this problem mainly resides, the average male beater has a significant size advantage over the average female beater. This includes the Mollie Lensings of the world, who are probably more fit than just about anyone they go against but are still much smaller. There is a reason combat sports have weight classes. Female beaters are also the ones generally asked to play the back position in a vertical beater set, which, as I will explain later, makes a player more susceptible. And finally, the real reason is that the current injury epidemic plaguing beaters is heavily tilted toward female players. For every David Gilbert injury at World Cup VII, there are five or six cases involving prominent female beaters. And, very likely, this is because, strategically, they are being targeted.

“The go-to strategy for the majority of competitive teams when they lose control is to go lay out the opposing team’s girl beater,” said Baylor University’s Brittany Ripperger. “It cracks me up that they target us and not the guys…but I guess we are the easier target since most guys have a good 40 pounds more on them than most beater girls. So with that said, almost every single play they are attempting to take out the girl beater.”

My second disclaimer is that this is not a witch hunt. Because this article focuses on prominent injuries in major games and that is where most of the film we have comes from, certain players are likely to show up as the instigators more often just by being the ones playing in these games. And at times, these players do clearly illegal things in the process of injuring their opposition. But, I am not looking to imply intent in this article. I will not be claiming that these plays were malicious. Illegal things happen often, these are just the ones with the worst outcomes.

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in.


Beater is an incredibly unique position in sports. They use their own balls, and they basically can’t score. They are also the only position in sports that can be tackled while playing defense. The idea of a point defender getting blindsided by a full-speed, full-force tackle to take them out of the play sounds completely ridiculous. After all, that defender clearly can’t be prepared to take that hit safely. Then you realize that is the reality beaters deal with every single play.

I think the best play to exemplify this is one that is gaining popularity among beaters. A slight variant on the 1.5 play, a beater attacks a lone defensive beater with a bludger in hand. At the last second, they toss away their bludger to go in for a hit. Here is an example of Texas State University’s Ryan Peavler executing the play against Lone Star Quidditch Club’s Savannah Allison.

(Time Stamp – 15:58)

Now let us put ourselves in Allison’s shoes for a second. As both Peavler and the quaffle play approach her, she is stuck in two minds: She needs to be prepared for Peavler to throw at any minute, positioning her body in a way to either block or dodge the close-range throw and she needs to keep herself positioned between the quaffle play and the hoops. Then, in about a half second, she has to try to make a sudden adjustment to safely take a full-speed hit that wasn’t even an option a second earlier. It should come as little surprise that she ends the play rolling over on her neck and exiting the game.

Compare this to a chaser. First of all, a chaser never even has to have a tackle in the back of their minds when they don’t have the ball. When they do have it, they are the center of the play and are free to move horizontally as much as they want in order to avoid a hit. And, when a chaser is at their most vulnerable in possession of the ball–going up to try to make a catch–a hit on them isn’t just a penalty, it is a red card.

More standard 1.5 bludger plays can be just as dangerous because beaters, particularly back beaters in a vertical setup, need to hold their positions. University of Miami and Team USA beater Shannon Moorhead lost much of her spring season last year to a broken collarbone when she got caught flat-footed on a charge from Florida’s Finest beater Sean Pagoada in such a situation.

“Her beater partner was in the box and she just took the hit straight up,” Pagoada said of the play. “It was not excessive but she didn’t really try to avoid it.”

Beaters can also be forced to follow quaffle play in a way that takes an attacking beater out of their central vision and places them in their peripherals or, even worse, their blind side. This is what happened to Tribe Quidditch’s Mandi Amigh at Lone Star Cup against University of Texas. Late in a play, the quaffle ends up behind the hoops. With her focus in that direction, she ends up with no ability to prepare for the hit from the Longhorns’ Michael Duquette.

(Time Stamp – 14:00)

Of course, this play dips into the other majorly problematic pillar of this rash of injuries: proper refereeing of them. While the hit in its entirety is difficult to see in the film, it is hard to argue that it is not excessive force or at least dangerous play, seeing as Amigh flies about five feet in the air. But while Amigh was transported to the hospital, Duquette stayed on the field. The only card in the play was given to Tribe for, assumedly, unsportsmanlike conduct in response. Also missed on the play was the Tribe male beater lowering his shoulder on Duquette to prevent him from initially hitting Amigh.

While major hits in the middle of the field, such as the above, rarely go unnoticed, it is very common for illegal play to go unseen and uncalled while chasing down balls on the periphery of the pitch. Texas’ Christian Dowdle ended up with a knee injury that kept her out of the Southwest Regional Championship while chasing down a loose ball alongside Peavler at Lone Star Cup. The two were engaging in standard, legal grappling before a quick hip check from Peavler sent her falling to the side onto her knee.

(Time Stamp – 6:18)

It is clear that the play was illegal, but some of the most talented referees in the sport agreed that it would be a hard foul to see on first take. But by not calling it in borderline situations like this, players are more likely to do the same again in the future.

Madeleine Wojdak of the Lost Boys was also the victim of an uncalled, loose-ball foul, which happened far enough out of the play in her team’s game against Arizona State University at the West Regional Championship that it was not even caught on film.

“The [Arizona State] female beater grabbed the ball and attempted a beat but missed,” said Wojdak, who is currently on crutches and awaiting the results of an MRI. “I raced her to the ball, and when I got there, she was still a couple of steps behind me so I decided to kick it. All of my weight was on my left leg, and as I was mid-kick, she dove for the ball from my back-left side, turtling the ball and making contact with my left calf.”

In perhaps the biggest irony of all, it was Wojdak who ended up receiving a card on the play for kicking Vicky Sanford, the Arizona State beater.

“The referees had to ask me multiple times what happened as I was screaming in pain and waiting for an EMT, because they didn’t really see it,” Wojdak continued. “I believe they gave me the card based on my description of the events rather than based on what they saw. In the video, you can see that there wasn’t a bludger referee anywhere near me.”

But nothing exemplifies the problems at the heart of this issue–the dangerous plays and the missed opportunities for referee assistance–as well as what happened to Baylor University’s Brittany Ripperger in the Southwest Regional semifinals. Halfway through the game, Ripperger found herself chasing down a bludger behind her own hoops with Duquette in pursuit behind her. After she bends down and picks up the ball, Duquette dives in from behind her, right through her left knee, a move eerily reminiscent of technique in a football chop block. She is sent airborne.

(Time Stamp – 13:50)

The play went unseen or, at the minimum, uncalled, which allowed for the following to happen just two minutes later:

(Time Stamp – 16:00)

This time, Duquette is clearly beat–you can even see a bludger referee point at him–but continues in pursuit of the ball. He gets half a step on Ripperger and uses this to slide, head first, in front of her as they approach the ball. While he does manage to swat the ball, he trips Ripperger, once again getting her knees. This time, the damage was done, as Ripperger suffered what is expected to be either a ripped MCL and dislocated tibia or a torn ACL.

In total, Duquette makes three illegal plays in 2 minutes. He trips her from behind, he continues to play after being beat and he slides into her path of motion, once again tripping her. If either of the first two had been called, the third could never have happened. And, just to be clear, the third play was not called either.

“All I remember was [Texas’] beater trying to tackle me, and so I tried to step but I was not fast enough so he was able to wrap me up and bring me to the ground in front of our hoops,” Ripperger said. “I got up and beat his broom, but no one called beat so I kept running for it just in case. I was just about to go down and pick up the ball when i felt my left knee get taken out from under me and then instant excruciating pain.”

Unfortunately, these dangerous, blindside hits seem to be on the uptick.

“Three years ago, I never really got tackled blindly. I usually always saw the person,” Ripperger said. “However, now about half the tackles I take, I have no clue they are coming, which gives me zero time to step or protect myself.

Any hope of curbing the injury trend among female beaters is going to have to come with stronger enforcement. What is most concerning is that the majority of illegal beater play is going to be watched not by field-tested head referees–who are correctly focused on quaffle play–but on assistant referees who are not field tested and less closely regulated by USQ.

“Plays like these, and the incredible speed danger and physicality of the beater game in general, make it incredibly incumbent upon all of us at USQ to significantly improve the assistant referees,” said Clay Dockery, USQ Rules Team Manager and a USQ Referee Advancement Coordinator. “If we don’t take major steps then the danger [and] the resulting injuries are only going to get worse.”

In the past three weeks, five female beaters from top-10 teams have been knocked out of games by injuries. Three, mentioned above, likely have serious knee injuries. Lensing has a broken hand. Looking around the league, you start to see an ugly trend. Team USA’s Kyrie Timbrook and Ashley Calhoun both wear preventative knee braces when they play. At some point, you have to wonder when the dangerous nature of the position is going to stop taking tolls on the bodies of the position’s best players and start taking it on their participation in the sport.

Ripperger, for example, is now going through the fourth major quidditch injury of her career. As a freshman, she got a concussion that affected her vision and forced her to miss school for a month. Last year, she had a spiral fracture in her hand in the fall semester and broke her thumb in the spring. Now, as a junior, she has another lengthy rehab ahead of her. At what point do you just throw in the towel?

“[I’m] not sure if I’d ever give it up, just because I’m really stubborn and competitive, but I definitely have taken a step back recently to avoid it affecting school and my long term goals,” Ripperger said. “I played competitive soccer my entire life and never got hurt like I have in quidditch.”

So where do we go from here? Improving assistant refereeing should be priority number one. Adding a field test for assistant referees and requiring at least one of the assistant referees be either head-referee or assistant-referee field tested would be a start, but would still leave large swaths of the field covered by uncertified officials. A slight change of refereeing mechanics, perhaps one that has each assistant referee exclusively following around one bludger, might go far in putting referee eyes where we need them most, especially when a ball heads well off to the side of the pitch.

But there also may be room to alter the rules to further protect beaters. Tackling needs to be a part of the quaffle game because chasers have no other way to stop the opposition. Beaters, on the other hand, have bludgers and can very much interact without to-the-ground contact. Rules could be made that effectively outlaw 1.5 bludger plays, taking away one of the most dangerous situations for beaters out of the equation. Tackling could also be removed from the position completely. It would be a major change, but it wouldn’t necessarily make the sport worse, just different. Remember, nowhere else in sports can someone not in possession of the scoring ball be tackled.

Dockery, who has a more intimate knowledge of the rules than anyone, feels that the rules could be changed if the right situation presented itself, but also sees refereeing as the bigger problem facing beaters today.

“I think it is enforcement of the current rules that’s the problem, but there is always room to improve the rules too,” Dockery said. “Every existing rule is being reviewed in light of these concerns, and rules will be adjusted or added if we feel they will improve the situation.”

I’m not an idealist. I also do not claim to have all of the answers. I realize that injuries are going to be a part of any sport, especially a full-contact sport like quidditch. But the rate of injuries among beaters of late, especially when compared to other positions in the sport, are dangerously high. It is time for us all to take note and do what we can to protect our teammates, our friends and our opponents.

14 Comments

  1. Beth Clementi

    February 27, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    If women were equal athletes then this wouldn’t be an issue. I play girl beater and get the shit hit out of me all the time. The difference is that I get back up.

    • Drew Faller

      February 28, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Even if you are an excellent athlete, which I am sure all of those beaters are, considering that they come from the top Quidditch teams in the US, it is pretty hard to get back up on a torn ACL. No matter the gender tackling someone who is lighter while they are unprepared is dangerous.

    • Anon

      February 28, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      I am the strength and conditioning coach for my team, and I was the starting female beater until a hip check from an opposing male beater tore my ACL, MCL, and menicus and ended my season. Before the injury, I could go pound for pound and run further, faster, and longer than many of the guys on my team. I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life and taken countless hits. I’ve gotten up from every one of them, except the one that shredded my knee. When you get hit in a way that renders you incapable to speak, please let me know. Let me know when the competitive drive that had you racing for a ball suddenly blacks out and you can’t see or hear, you can only feel the pain in your leg. The difference that you speak of isn’t because females are any lesser of an athlete, or because you are tougher than other girls. Once again, when it happens to you, try to get up and tell me how that goes. Females in this sport train just as hard as the males and are just as athletic. The issue here is safety of a vunerable player (usually a female due to game strategy). I hope that you continue to train as an equal athlete, and that in the process, you gain some respect for those around you.

  2. Ryan peavler

    February 27, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    I stopped reading cause clearly you just think a girl falling down must be a fall. Your came that I clearly illegal fouled dowdel is stupid. If you actually watch the video you see her try and step in from of me. Which is when we make contact. Your clame that duquette did two illegal actions is also ignorent. He attempts a tackle and she spins. Then he is clearly beating her in a foot race and dives for the ball when she falls over him. In no way did he dive at her knees. Also shout out to tad, he murders women for fun.

    • craig

      February 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

      You sound like such an intelligent, goodhearted man. Why are these girls crying about a little knee injury? It’s all in good fun! Bitches amirite?

    • BeatsNoMore

      February 28, 2015 at 11:08 am

      First of all check your grammar “your came that I clearly illegal fouled dowdel is stupid”.

      Second of all, it is not even about illegal plays at this point, you could have a perfectly legal tackle and still get crippling injuries from this. I tore my ACL receiving a perfectly clean tackle during a practice. It is about increasing the safety of the position so that we stop going through beaters like used tissues.

      Third of all, PLEASE get your eyes checked because you can clearly see that he did intentionally lay himself out in front of her to prevent her from getting the bludger, which whether or not you want to call that a tackle, is definitely a trip.

    • J Anon

      February 28, 2015 at 11:43 am

      Actually, I believe what Duquette did was a foul. If he preforms an action (below the knees) and the other player doesn’t have time to adjust to not get hurt, that is tripping. Yeah she ran into him, but she didn’t have time to change speed or direction. I also have a hard time believing you are actually Ryan with all those typos.

  3. Daniel Martin

    February 28, 2015 at 12:26 am

    I am a certified head referee in the West, and after head refereeing five games at regionals, I found that a major problem with assistant referees isn’t necessarily experience, but movement and what they watch. I would have assistant referees who would limit their interaction to standing in the middle of the pitch and call beats. Without that movement, they had no ability to effectively see, or call, illegal play. Amount of experience didn’t play into how much they moved, it was simply a trend that some stayed still, and some moved. On the other hand, it was a trend among certified head referees (including myself) that when switching to assistant refereeing after head refereeing a different game, it was incredibly difficult to focus on bludgers instead of quaffle. Head referees are trained to watch quaffle, and I would find my head referee turned assistant referees watching quaffle instead of beater play. I also don’t mean to witch hunt, but the injury during the ASU v. Lost Boys game at regionals occurred on the same side of the field as a head referee turned assistant referee. Furthermore, you can see in the footage that the assistant ref is off by the quaffle during the foul and the head referee turns out to be the closest person to the foul. If the assistant referee had been watching the beater play in their zone, they would have seen the play and been able to make the call. It was not a matter of lack of training, just a lack of paying attention.

    Hence, the problem is not necessarily lack of knowledge of calls, but referees getting distracted by quaffle play or simply not moving enough to make good calls.

  4. Bradley Garrett

    February 28, 2015 at 2:15 am

    I’ve watched the University of Texas team several times purposely target female beaters to take them out of a game. This type of illegal and unfair play must be eliminated for the betterment of the sport. Refs need to be properly trained to look for this type of play and aggressively remove players who target female beaters to purposely try to injure them.

    • EponAnon

      March 3, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      What refs should watch for is that UT beater…on a team with the motto “you’re not beat ’til they call it”, he finds new ways to break the rules. And yes, sometimes (unsurprisingly) players are injured because of it. I hate beater play. Dirtiest position in the sport.

  5. Karen

    February 28, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    I was a female beater playing for a new team. We did training in how to take tackles and I could have dealt with most head-on or beats from the side without getting seriously injured. However, in playing in two different games with the same team, I was illegally tackled from directly behind. The first time, I had an AC joint separation that had me in physical therapy for months and is still not fully recovered to this day. I returned after three months, and in my first scrimmage against this team got tackled from behind again, giving me a concussion that dropped my GPA really badly. At that point my doctor strongly recommended that I no longer play quidditch. Each of the guys were close to (if not actually) a lot taller than me and have lots of weight on me. And I just got pummeled.

  6. Shelby Rider

    March 1, 2015 at 10:06 am

    There is a difference between getting hit a lot and actually getting injured and I think the point of this article is to say that the way male beaters are targeting the female beaters is very dangerous.

    I am a female beater myself and I recently had to stop playing from too many injuries. I definitely consider myself pretty athletic and extremely competitive, so like Beth, every time I get knocked down, I jump right back up. But there is only so much a 4’9” girl can take up against a six foot tall male beater that keeps coming at me play after play after play because I am small and therefore considered an easy target.

    I have had countless injuries in the past three years that I have played, two of them being head injuries that left me sitting in large puddles of my own blood. At some point you have to draw the line when it comes to aggressive plays.

    The article points out that there needs to be a referee on each bludger, and that is something that I have been saying from the beginning. That is the first step in the right direction, but I feel like the rules should definitely be adjusted in thinking that female players are starting to back off from playing because it is too dangerous for a lot of them to play anymore. Safety should come first.

    I don’t want the sport to become less competitive or even that much less aggressive, but there are rules made about excessive force and intent to injure. And in most cases, there is no reason that some huge guy needs to slam me into the ground when he could just as easily wrestle the ball out of my hands.

    And maybe it is the way that male beaters say, “Get the little girl!” or the way that they smile and laugh when they are looking at me before they take off at full speed to tackle me, but it seems like some people take pleasure in hurting people just because it is easy for them. And that is not okay.

    I know several teams that their tactic is to hit the girl beater as hard as they can so that she is terrified every time you come running down the field at her. While I see how that could be considered a helpful tactic for your team, it does not seem okay to me. The bad part about it though is that you can’t prove intent, which makes it is hard to call them on it, so girls just keep getting injured worse than is necessary.

    The way quidditch has been going lately, it wouldn’t surprise me if it started becoming less and less coed due to safety issues if the rules are not adjusted somehow.

    (and I am not referring to the players above, I am speaking from my own experience.)

  7. Marie Todd

    March 1, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    If quidditch becomes more violent, some schools may stop supporting a quidditch team for liability reasons. (I know some schools that won’t support a team simply because of the brooms).
    It’s a shame that some people (and the teams that condone their conduct) are trying to ruin the game. I sincerely hope that the USQ looks into this issue.

  8. Amy R

    March 30, 2015 at 12:18 am

    I am a new spectator to the sport of Quidditch, and I find it to be very interesting and exciting! However, it can obviously and quickly change from being a game of athleticism, skill, and strategy to one of much senseless tackling, pain and injuries, as some players seem to use force as their primary method of scoring instead of strategy. When played as a game of force instead of strategy, it becomes very dangerous and is not interesting to watch, and I would expect, not as much fun for most players, either. I agree that more trained referees need to be used per game because there is so much action occurring simultaneously. However, “use of excessive force” will always have a different meaning for different people. I believe the aspect of tackling needs to be given a close look. It’s a great part of the sport when done safely, but, unfortunately, all players don’t do it that way. I would like to see Quidditch continue to grow in popularity, but without some serious adjustments made to improve safety, I fear that it will become stagnant instead of growing to its potential, and, due to liability issues, may even fade. Thanks for writing this insightful and undeniable article. Hopefully, it can be a stepping stone in the direction of a safer sport of Quidditch that relies more on strategy and much less on force!

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