You’ve got to hand it to the folks at the Shawnee Sports Complex for going deep and bringing the 13th annual U.S. Quidditch Cup national championship tourney to the 127-acre field of artificially turfed dreams along the Dunbar-Institute border.
In fact, they went so deep so soon, I had no idea that Quidditch was a thing until the Harry Potter-based sport was mentioned early in the year at a county commission meeting as a potential user of the new facility. To me, a baseball guy, lacrosse is an exotic sport, although I realize it had been played in America centuries before Abner Doubleday’s forefathers (and mothers) slid into home here.
But Quidditch, first played in 2005, has caught on and is now played in 40 countries. In the U.S., there are 4,000 male and female players on 150 teams, including WVU’s Summit club team and a U.S. National team.
Spectators first have to get past the fact that all 14 players on a Quidditch field are, at all times, moving about atop brooms. Then they can begin to appreciate a fast-moving contact sport in which one type of ball is thrown at opposing players to halt their forward progress and another is directed toward one of three goal rings to score points.
Though my time as a Quidditch spectator has thus far been limited to watching videos of teams at play, I already have formed the opinion that it’s more interesting to watch than some Olympic sports. Curling and synchronized swimming come immediately to mind.
In fact, Quidditch seems more down to earth than a number old sports, as well as some new sports that have been emerging across the world in recent years.
Last week, I read about how pillow-fighting has been an organized sport in Japan since 2013 and now involves an annual national championship tournament with 64 teams of five insomniacs each.
Competition begins with nightgown-clad competitors stretched out on cushions and covered with duvets, until a whistle is blown, prompting them to spring into action and hurl regulation pillows at their opponents. One player on each team may use a duvet to block incoming rounds — I mean rectangles. Once hit, feather-flinging warriors are sidelined for the duration of the round. The idea is to keep one player on each team designated a “king” from being struck by the head-support projectiles.
Another new sport that appears to be building momentum is chess boxing, which as its name suggests, intertwines six timed rounds of chess moves with six rounds of chest and face pummeling. Competitors win by either checkmating or knocking out their opponents.
I’ll bring the list of oddball but growing athletic competitions to a close with a shout-out — better make that a shout-at — to ferret legging.
The rules to this event haven’t changed much since it debuted in Scotland centuries ago: several ferret-owning male competitors gather in the same location, typically not far from a pub, and in reaction to a pre-arranged signal, put a live ferret down their pants. Then they try to keep it from escaping for as long as possible.
What could go wrong, right?
Revived a few decades ago after mercifully fading from public practice, ferret-legging traces its roots back to the era when estate owners and their upscale hunting buddies used the weasel-like animals to flush rabbits from their burrows. Commoners who acquired ferrets of their own to poach on the landlords’ property felt compelled to hide them when landowners approached, giving birth to the pastime that followed.
The activity is under attack by animal rights activists as being cruel to ferrets by keeping them trapped and panicked, all for the amusement of humans. But it’s also one of those rare blood sports in which the human typically bleeds more than the animal.
While it would seem to have potential as a spectator sport, ferret-legging in its championship form can apparently be downright boring. The world endurance record is five hours, 26 minutes, set in 1981, which proved too long to maintain a crowd’s interest.
With that in mind, I urge the trend-spotters at Shawnee to draw the line at Japanese rules pillow-fighting.