Silicon Valley Skrewts' Logan Anbinder, center, drives to the goal between the University of Ottawa Quidditch team's Matthew Bunn, right, and Ahmed Al-Slaq during a scrimmage at the 2013 Quidditch World Cup in Kissimmee, Fla. / Phelan M. Ebenhack AP
WASHINGTON - Alex Krall used to play soccer. Then, in college, he found a new sport that required both intense focus and physical agility. Oh, and broomsticks.
It's not exactly soccer, it's nowhere near football, but the object is still to score goals - a la the fictional game seen in the wildly popular Harry Potter movies. In real-world Quidditch, the players don't actually fly. But they do run around with broomsticks between their legs and try to chuck a ball through an elevated ring.
"In soccer, every player is working to get that ball in the goal," Krall explains, an excited grin spreading across his face. "In Quidditch, there's the quaffle, three bludgers and the snitch. So the beaters are trying to knock people out and the snitch is trying not to get caught and the seeker is trying to catch the snitch."
That's right. Quidditch has left Hogwarts and come to life on muggle college campuses across the country. About 200 colleges and universities have club teams that play Quidditch.
The co-ed, full contact sport has grown significantly since it's origins at Middlebury College. Alex Benepe, the International Quidditch Association's CEO, helped his friend Xander Manshel develop the concept when they were freshmen at Middlebury.
That was in 2005. In 2007, they held the first Quidditch World Cup game against Vassar, with about 20 players in total. Today, the International Quidditch Association boasts more than 4000 registered members and 200 official college teams at the club level. So far, no college offers a Quidditch scholarship.
This year, at the annual QuidCon event held by the International Quidditch Association in Washington, D.C., more than 50 players from 30 different teams across the country gathered to learn about and improve the magical sport they have built from the bottom up. Of course, they also came to D.C. to play. The Association hosted an all-day tournament at George Mason University as part of the conference.
Benepe said attendance at QuidCon this year is actually lower than normal â?? but for a good reason. He said there are four Quidditch tournaments this summer alone, so many teams are saving their money for travel to those games. He said having so many tournaments in a single summer is a sure sign of the sport's growth.
In fact, Benepe said he thinks Quidditch has grown faster in its first 8 years than "any sport in history." Rosemary Ross, who plays Quidditch for Texas A&M's champion team, said watching the sport grow is part of the fun of playing.
"You get to be a part of a developing sport, which is something not very many people get to do," Rosemary says. "You get to see what the sport was and what it can be."
Now that so many colleges and communities have their own teams, many players say Harry Potter fandom is just a small component of playing Quidditch. Micah Haji-Sheikh, who plays at Missouri University, also used to play soccer before opting for something a little more magical. Now, she says she has fallen in love with Quidditch.
"I started because it had to do with Harry Potter and I was obsessed," she says. "And that has all kind of gone to the wayside and now I'm just focused on being a better athlete and a better player."
As it turns out, playing Quidditch requires exceptional dexterity. Players try to throw a volley ball through one of three hoops to score goals, and are at risk to full-on tackles. Meanwhile, other players throw dodge balls to knock people out of play. All the while, two players "seek" and chase someone who acts as the "golden snitch."
Catch the snitch, or the tennis ball attached to the snitch's shorts, and the game is over, leaving the players to apply ice to their broomstick burns.
"It's just always there," Haji-Sheikh says of the broomstick she must run around with for 20 to 30 minutes. "After the first 15 minutes with it there, you don't notice it there anymore. It's just like a part of you."
Krall said at this point in the sport's growth, the community that has formed around Quidditch is increasingly important, especially as collegiate players graduate. Krall actually founded the Virginia Quidditch League, and continues to play in it three years after he graduated.
Alexander Garacheski, an assistant captain at Lockhaven University, also says playing Quidditch is very much about being part of a community. He says he likes that the sport is "off the beaten path," and he chose to play Quidditch in college as a way to make new friends.
Krall says it doesn't take a wizard to figure out why Quidditch has gotten so popular.
"It's the most fun you can have with a broomstick between your legs," he says.
Read the original story: Quidditch popularity soars on college campuses