Need something to pick up your spirits during this down time on the Kansas Jayhawk sports calendar? Something to wash out the taste of the fact that the Jayhawks outshot Villanova in the Elite Eight from both twos and threes, and yet they were the ones left watching from home as Nova's Kris Jenkins ripped Marcus Paige and North Carolina's heart out at the buzzer for a National Title?
Well, here's something ridiculous to ease the pain of the cratered portion of the Jayhawk sports season.
There's still one Kansas Jayhawks team still playing for a title, this very weekend in fact.
Saturday, April 16, and Sunday, April 17, the Kansas Quidditch team will be in Columbia, South Carolina as one of 60 Quidditch teams from across the nation invited to participate in the U.S. Quidditch Cup 9.
If you're unfamiliar with Quidditch, it's the game featured in the Harry Potter novels and movies where the participants fly around on brooms. If you're now asking yourself how a game built around the ability to fly gets translated into a playable form in the real world, well, the answer is in a very rough, full contact way that resembles a combination of rugby and handball played by people running around on a field with a piece of pvc piping pinched between their legs.
It's absolutely ludicrous, but there's also something great about the fact that this nonsensical tournament exists and the Jayhawks are a part of it. I've got a soft spot for the kids on this team, and for any kids playing for any number of Kansas' Club Sports squads. During my time as a student at the University of Kansas, writing for the University Daily Kansan, I was assigned coverage of KU's Club Sports, which was any recreational sports club ranging from the more conventional ones like rugby and men's soccer to bowling and even the more hippie-lympic stylings of disc golf and ultimate frisbee.
This Quidditch team is both proudly co-ed and proudly doing their part to keep the Border War alive by playing the Mizzou Tigers every year.
Last summer I had the opportunity to talk with the kids from Kansas' Quidditch team. They were giving a live demonstration of their game as a part of Lawrence's Offbeat Sports Day held at the East Lawrence Rec Center. Here's some of what I wrote about them then, originally a part of a larger article for LFK Magazine:
I wasn't a Potter fan, but even so, I was no less immune to its massive pop cultural presence. I knew of Quidditch, but as KU's team captain, Max Wallerstedt, attempted to explain the rules of gameplay to me, "There are Keepers, Chasers, Beaters, and Seekers. Each can only pursue or engage with other Keepers, Chasers---" it began to feel like that scene in Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox where Owen Wilson was explaining the comically convoluted rules of Whack-Bat.
I had to ask Wallerstedt if it ever felt a bit precarious running around and bashing into people with essentially a stick between his legs. Hell, guy or girl, with all the smashing around into bodies out there it seems like a recipe for a whole lot of uncomfortable injuries. He laughed. "Once you get into the flow of the game you kind of forget that it's there."
The game itself plays out like a loosely coordinated form of chaos. I counted three different balls being slung around out there with people body checking each other up and down the field.
Indicative of the fleeting nature of pop cultural obsessions - ones even as big as Harry Potter - was the fact that the group of first and second grade kids sitting behind me were greatly confused by what they were watching. The college aged kids sprinting up and down the field, riding imaginary broomsticks, all grew up on Potter. To the little guys behind me, who would have been in preschool when the last Potter film was in theaters, it was "Harry Who Now?"
"Why do they have those sticks between their legs?" I heard a boy about the age of seven ask his friend.
"They're supposed to hit the ball with them, I think," his friend's reply.
"Then why are they carrying them with their legs?"
After 20 minutes of gameplay, the snitch entered the field. In the Potter books and movies the snitch is a little gold ball that flies rapidly around the field as players try to catch it. In real life, on a Saturday morning in Lawrence, Kansas, the snitch was a kid named David Mora dressed all in yellow, unencumbered by having to run while straddling a stick. His entrance added a violent game of tackle tag to the other action still very much raging all over the field. Mora's teammates went easy on him during this scrimmage. In most real games though, the snitch is the player on the Quidditch field most likely to get the piss beat out of them.
"Our snitch lost his front teeth last year," Wallerstedt told the crowd after the game. "Quidditch is a little too much of a contact sport at times."
I've been following this team's Twitter feed ever since. In this era of overblown sports importance, a group of college kids who just want to run around like mad men and women while beating the hell out of each other for no other reason than the love of competition, exercise and dumb fun is refreshing.
Earlier this week I checked out the U.S. Quidditch website. The Jayhawks team currently sits at #24 out of the 153 teams currently playing this nonsense. For the 2015-16 season the Jayhawks Quidditch team went 16-3 in 19 matches played.
The U.S. Quidditch Cup 9 spans both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. I thought it was a little funny that the promo vid for this tournament features the same music from the Jayhawk football team's Memorial Stadium pre-game pump up video. Fitting. Honestly, what's more ridiculous right now? Kansas Quidditch? Or Kansas Football? At least one of the two actually knows it's built on a fanciful premise.
Best of luck to KU's Quidditch squad out in South Carolina this weekend. Have fun. Tell your snitch to wear a mouthpiece. Tell all your male players to wear a cup. And Rock out with your Chalk dusty broom sticks Jayhawks!