It's game day. The muggles hold tightly to the brooms between their legs, zig-zagging up and down the field like a swarm of insects.
Winthrop sophomore Josh Demarest plays chaser. He battles for the quaffle and dances through the beaters and bludgers like a seasoned NFL running back. Sometimes, he dashes madly to the goal and flings the ball to score. Sometimes, the mass of flailing arms blocks his shot.
"It's always been a dream of mine to play Quidditch," said Demarest, who found his first competition broom in his kitchen. "I've always seen myself as a Quidditch player."
Meanwhile, the seekers are jogging far off, looking for the snitch - who could be hiding in a tree, between cars in the parking lot, or who knows where. Whoever catches the snitch almost always brings home a victory.
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Muggles (non-magic people) have transformed the fantastical sport conjured in J.K. Rowling's literary and cinematic "Harry Potter" series into a nationwide sports phenomenon.
On a recent Saturday, a group of Winthrop muggles hosted the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Blue Devils of Duke University in their first intercollegiate competitive matches.
The Eagles are looking at tournaments for the spring and setting up matches with other colleges.
Rowling's Quidditch requires a bit of magic - wizards-in-training zoom around on flying broomsticks chasing balls that have free will. There's always the threat of spectators casting nefarious spells from the bleachers.
Muggle Quidditch modifies the game for non-magic people, but the flightless version presents its own challenges - loosely resembling aspects of basketball, rugby, field hockey and dodge ball, looking more like organized chaos to the casual observer.
Despite lacking "the death aspect" present in Harry Potter's Quidditch matches, it's still a lot of fun, said freshman Amanda Britt.
After one game, sophomore McKenzie Davenport said, a teammate found a splinter between his teeth.
Getting ready for battle
Their painted faces, wizarding capes and brooms belied the seriousness the Eagles and their competitors brought to the game.
The Blue Devils ran laps around the field, the Mountaineers huddled tightly, and the Eagles contorted in unison stretches. When the Eagles huddled, their captain, Daniel Fowler, leveled with them.
"They're going to try to bully us. That's not going to happen! This is our town - our turf!" Fowler said to his Eagles, crimson hand prints blazing on their faces.
"We don't need to wear makeup to be scary," said Duke sophomore Chloe Rockow. "We play with lots of physicality. We like to beat the other team up."
In the books and movies, Harry Potter plays seeker, arguably the most important position on the team - If he catches the lightning-fast snitch, he almost always wins the game.
Like Harry Potter, Winthrop's Stephen McFall was awarded the seeker position as a first-year student.
"It's hard not to take glory," he said.
He spends most of his game time running to find the snitch hidden somewhere within an area that extends beyond the playing field into the parking lot, over fences, around buildings - even in the trees.
Sometimes, 20 minutes goes by before a seeker finds and captures the snitch - racking up major points for the team and ending the game.
Though Rowling is "no Tolkien," Winthrop junior Steven Howell enjoyed watching his friends play Quidditch while making friendly jokes. The players on the field weren't quite what he expected, he said.
"I thought they were all going to be liberal arts majors with bifocal glasses," he laughed.
"It's a lot more physical than I thought," said Nathan Thomas, an App State graduate interning with a ministry on campus.
He brought the gusto of a Super Bowl tailgater to the Quidditch match sidelines: "I bleed black and gold!" he said of the Mountaineers' team colors.
The Eagles even have their own fan club.
Sophomores Kaitlin Shortman and Jessi Wasilewski said they're "not that athletic," but they love Harry Potter and Quidditch. Together, the two make up the Winthrop Quidditch Team Booster Club.
They sit behind a table covered with coolers full of ice and sodas, plates of cookies and a tray of "cauldrons" - their own culinary invention made of melted Tootsie Rolls shaped like little pots holding melted marshmallow.
After the Eagles fell to the Mountaineers, the team gathered to catch its breath and cull their competitive spirit.
"Because we lost, we're going to play even harder," freshman Abby Olson said. "It's like this needed to happen."
Freshman Andy Lowe, a cross country runner, admitted he's "afraid of hitting people" and vowed to toughen up.
"Everyone has to take one for the team and lay 'em out."
Want to know more?
Go to the Winthrop Quidditch team's website for information on upcoming matches - winthrop.edu/recservices, click on "Club Sports," then "Quidditch."
Here are the basics:
Each team is allowed seven people on the field: 3 chasers, 2 beaters, a keeper to defend the goals and a seeker to capture the snitch (a neutral player who flees the seekers on both teams).
All players except the snitch must remain on their broomsticks. One hand always holding tightly to the broom makes one-handed passing, catching and scoring more challenging.
Players may use their one free arm and their bodies to tackle opponents.