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‘Harry Potter’ fans play real-life Quidditch

Although Quidditch — like almost everything in the “Harry Potter” books — was always fun to read about, most Muggles would think it silly to attempt the game themselves.

And that’s what Alex Benepe, 22, thought when his friend Xander Manshel came up with the idea of an intramural Quidditch team their freshman year at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Four years later, he has graduated, but still heads up the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (collegequidditch.com), which has more than 100 college teams as members.

Eleven teams from as far away as Washington state and Louisiana flew out (“not on brooms,” Benepe said) for the 2008 World Cup tournament at Middlebury.

“People really have to see it to believe it,” he said. “It’s so wonderfully foolish — it would be impossible for you to play this game and not have a good time.”

In the intercollegiate version, the students hold brooms between their legs and run across the oval pitch as they attempt to throw the Quaffle (a volleyball) through one of three hula hoops posted up high on PVC pipe. The beaters attempt to stop the opposing team from scoring by throwing the Bludgers (dodgeballs) at the other players. Of course, the goal in any Quidditch game is to capture the little Golden Snitch. Here, the Snitch is usually a very fit young man who can handle being chased at top speed for the length of a game.

Benepe says the Snitch is allowed to do pretty much anything he can to get away, including leaving the field, pushing people and throwing things.

“The athletes are actually pretty ferocious,” he said.

“People think it’s nerdy, and there are theatrical elements to it, but it’s also intense, physical — there are a lot of bruises and blood spilled.”

Since the festival-like fall 2008 tournament, there was a small tournament hosted by Boston-area schools and the Middlebury team is now in a “Half-Blood Prince” commercial, filmed by MTV and Time Warner.

Others also have taken up the sport and groups are active on LiveJournal and Facebook. Tournaments have been played at conventions in New Orleans and Chicago, and the Harry Potter Education Fanon hosts a Quidditch game every year at its conventions. This year, the July 18-21 event called Azkatraz will be in San Francisco). Next year, it will be in Orlando, Fla., where the Harry Potter theme park will be opening.

Heidi Tandy, 38, an intellectual property rights attorney in Miami, has been involved since the first Harry Potter convention. She said the participants change their Quidditch just a bit each year. In Las Vegas in 2008, they played the game in a pool. “We’re replacing the Quaffles with Frisbees this year to make it a little more ‘San Francisco,’ ” Tandy said.

“I wanted to do Quidditch on Segways, but we didn’t have time. Maybe next year.”

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