Elaine and Heidi Kermes were ready for a Big Ten faceoff, one for which they had driven an hour and committed a Saturday.
On metal bleachers overlooking a Conshohocken athletic field, Heidi wore the maize and blue, cheering on the University of Michigan, her hometown team, while Elaine wore a baseball hat emblazoned with the Penn State logo.
It was noon, and the intramarriage rivalry game wasn’t set to start until 6:30 p.m. But the Lancaster couple was so enthralled by the other games in the tournament that they decided to make a day of watching a sport that Heidi loves.
Which isn’t basketball, football, volleyball, or tennis.
They were attending the U.S. Quadball Cup, the annual championship tournament for a sport formerly known as U.S. Quidditch.
“It’s like Harry Potter in real life,” said Heidi, who was attending her fifth cup and the one closest to home (she drove from Lancaster to Kissimmee, Fla., a few years back).
On Saturday and Sunday, the event is taking over the Proving Grounds, a massive multi-sport complex in Conshohocken, drawing thousands of college athletes, parents, and fans to the area from as far away as California and Texas. More than 60 teams were competing.
The weekend marks the first time the cup has been held in Pennsylvania, and the first time in more than a decade that it has come to the Northeast.
It is also the first championship tournament since the sport changed its name from quidditch to quadball, a move that was made in part to distance itself from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and her views about the transgender community.
‘It was a combination of factors,” said Jack McGovern, spokesperson for U.S. Quadball and a Haverford Township native, as he stood beside one of the 12 pitches Saturday morning. Among them, however, was that the sport had been wanting to distance itself from “the anti-trans positions J.K. Rowling has advanced.”
The name change was the culmination of at least a decade of conversations in the quadball community, one that prides itself on inclusivity. Teams are prohibited from having more than four people of the same gender on the field at a time. About 40% of quadball players identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or nonbinary, according to the sport’s latest member census.
Wearing rainbows on his bright yellow jersey and on his socks, former player Richard Crumrine, 29, a Florida native currently living in Alaska, walked around blasting music from a portable speaker and carrying a sign reading “Free Hugs.”
A passing player shouted “Can I have a hug?” Crumrine wrapped his arms around her.
He called quadball “a huge emblem of inclusivity,” and said his “Free Hugs” campaign is just one piece of that.
“It’s hard for someone who is in a dark spot to say ‘I need help,’” Crumrine said, but maybe a hug — offered with a colorful, hard-to-miss sign — can help in some small way.
He and others in the quadball community said they support the sport’s name change for similar reasons. Though it will take some getting used to.
Heidi Kermes, for one, said she decided against wearing a shirt from a previous tournament that said “quidditch.” Instead, she planned to buy a new quadball shirt Saturday. Other fans walked around wearing shirts with Harry Potter references, such as “Platform 9¾” or “I’m only here for the Butterbeer.”
The name change can sometimes confuse would-be players, said Paul Ruffolo, 22, a senior and team captain for Middlebury College, where the sport was created.
He and his teammates have long been supportive of the change due to Rowling’s comments, he said, but the new name has at times made it hard to sell the sport to people quickly. Many look confused when he mentions quadball, he added, so he often has to clarify that it was the sport formerly known as quidditch.
“I don’t know how to go about it,” he said.
McGovern, the spokesperson, acknowledged that the sport will never fully untangle itself from its association with Harry Potter, the series from which its rules were adapted. Players even hold a broom between their legs while running around the pitch.
Michael Rodriguez, who is working to expand the sport to youth in the Philadelphia area through his company, Levio Learning, teaches the game at wizarding camps and events, as well as at its own academies. Oftentimes, children who are not otherwise active in sports are drawn to quadball because they’ve read Harry Potter.
“If kids are reading Harry Potter, it’s a good supplement,” said Rodriguez, 28, who played quadball for Drexel’s now-disbanded team and lives in Folsom. “Reading is really good for kids. So is running around.”
There are not currently youth quadball leagues, though he hopes there will be someday, once more people are exposed to the sport.
Current players said they were drawn to quadball for a variety of reasons.
Rutgers captain Annika Kim, 20, of Palisades Park, N.J., said she fell in love with the sport when she saw a highlight reel on TikTok.
Her teammate, James Kaari, 21, of Toms River, came across a table for quadball at a club fair. It was next to the table for volleyball, a sport they said they had intended to sign up for until learning it required experience they didn’t have.
McGovern, 24, said quadball’s leaders hope that the name change will also attract more athletes.
“There are a lot people who wouldn’t have given the sport a chance” when it went by its former name, he said. He hopes they will now consider it.
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