The Rebuild of Quidditch at UF

As the remnants of an Epilepsy Walk cleared out, Flavet Field became an empty plane of grass and dirt. Dust clouds flurried, rustling the browning vegetation. The field would have remained empty, if it weren’t for the singular white van parked towards its center.

Gainesville resident Hao Wang emerged from the vehicle, carrying a cubical black and silver box. Ushering the speaker to the stage, he set it to blast songs from Disney films at a volume that could be heard across the entire field.

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Coach Tim Derrick helps his team set up for the Swamp Cup. This event consisted of multiple scrimmage games and educational lessons for new players.

Saturday was the 2017 Swamp Cup, an effort to attract players and spectators from across Alachua County, regardless of experience in the sport. This wasn’t a baseball outing, football game, or a soccer tournament. Hosted by the University of Florida’s Quidditch team, residents of the county gathered to bring the fictional sport from the Harry Potter book series to life.

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Team members assist new players with a warm-up exercise. These players are being taught mechanics that apply to playing a legitimate Quidditch match.

“We’re very accepting that you don’t know how to play, this is not a sport people grow up playing,” said Gainesville resident Meg Cannan. She has been a member of the team since August 2016.

Tim Derrick, the six-year coach of the team, said he saw this event as not just a casual set of scrimmages between teammates. There are two nights a week already reserved for that. This was an attempt to attract new players, the start of a plan to resurrect a team that Derrick said had split over the past year.

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Coach Tim Derrick joins his team members in a Quidditch match. He plays himself to help teach new players by example.

Cannan said the UF Quidditch team used to be the second best in the region. One of the factors that makes Quidditch stand out from traditional sports is that college teams and community teams play in the same league.

She said this led Florida’s Finest, a team dedicated to conglomerating the most skilled players from across the state, to recruit the strongest players from Florida universities.

“UF’s team was a victim to this system, and because of that we are struggling with membership,” she said.

According to their official Facebook page, “Florida’s Finest is the premier Quidditch community team in Florida, with members hailing from Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, and Jackonsville (Jacksonville).”

Choosing to temporarily drop out from the official United States league, Derrick said he spent the year trying to reinvigorate the team, attracting new members to come play through weekday scrimmages and events such as this.

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Team members and new players engage in a game of Quidditch. Each player carries an orange or blue “broom,” representing the team they are on.

Derrick said a major dilemma of coaching a sport that originated from fiction is the variety in player skill levels. As he allows anyone interested to join his team, he said he receives people who run the gamut of athletic ability.

“You get people who have never played a sport before,” he said. “You have to teach them how to play the game and how to be an athlete.”

It is this struggle that Derrick said motivates him to revitalize his team.

“It’s rewarding when they finally figure something out,” he said.

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Coach Tim Derrick advises new players. Newcomers were placed on teams with experienced members so they would learn through play.

Derrick said the decline of the Harry Potter mania has changed Quidditch in Gainesville for the better.

“Non Harry Potter fans have started seeing it as a sport,” he said.

He said this change in perspective has allowed for people who have never read a J.K. Rowling novel, or seen a single film in the saga, to become immersed in the game.

Wang, a member of the team, said, “People get injured every tournament, this is a full contact sport.”

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Meg Cannan struggles to keep hold of the ball. Quidditch is a co-ed sport, despite being full-contact.

Cannan said it was the friendliness and sense of community that convinced her to join the team, and believes that is what will attract others.

“I love the people.”

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WUFT- Gainesville Pokémon Go Community Stays Active With New Update

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/20/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/02/20/gainesville-pokemon-go-community-stays-active-with-new-update/

Tillissa Barcia sat at a Starbucks in Downtown Gainesville on Saturday morning. Although she was lounging with her husband Steven, and her two children Austin and Abery, none of them were sipping a coffee.

This Starbucks is what Pokémon Go players refer to as a PokeStop. Two more of the item-spewing stations surround the street corner.

For Barcia, these frequent “Pokémon Go adventures” allow the family to spend quality time together, regardless of her post-traumatic stress disorder and her daughter’s cerebral palsy.

“We spend more time together, and I enjoy the discovery,” said Barcia. “I continue playing it for that reason.”

Steven Barcia, wife Tillissa Barcia, and her daughter Abery play Pokémon GO together. The Starbucks pictured is a PokeStop, a location where players can collect in-game items. (Joshua Klafter/WUFT News)

On Thursday, the mobile game Pokémon Go launched its largest update since its initial release in July 2016. Not only were 80 new Pokémon made available to catch, new gameplay features were implemented as well.

Despite a decline in popularity nationwide, Pokémon Go has remained alive in Gainesville.

Barcia and her husband serve as two of the three administrators of Pokémon Go: Gainesville,  a growing Facebook group centered around the game. Barcia said the group has grown steadily from 10 to 715 members as of Monday.

Despite the size of the group’s membership, Steven said there are only about 50 players who actively post. He said posting is not the only mark of participation, however. The majority of group members use the page to find tips and advice.

“They post what they find there so other people can use it,” Steven said.

Despite group growth, Barcia said the actual community isn’t as burgeoning. “There’s also been a lot of players, they’ve played for seven months, caught everything they wanted to,” she said. “They’ve said we’re kind of done for now, but we’ll come back when the next generation comes out.”

Ken Humphlett, group moderator and owner of Dependable Ken Tech Support, said the Gainesville community hasn’t declined, but redirected itself.

“The gym community is still very active,” he said. “This hardcore group of people, they’re always playing.”

When starting the game, players may choose to align themselves with one of three teams: Mystic, Valor, or Instinct. Teams then battle each other to gain control of “gyms”, which represent real-world territory.

Humphlett said this shift in community focus from catching Pokémon to taking gyms has created some hostility.

“As more people get into gyms, it creates a competitive dynamic,” he said.

Both Humphlett and Barcia agree that the fun has come back to the game with the implementation of Pokémon from the second generation of the series.

“A lot of players are kind of crawling out from the shadows now that there’s something new,” Barcia said. “People are returning.”

Although every member of the family expressed their excitement, the Barcias said they didn’t require a new generation to renew their interest in the game.

“It’s just time with family and discovering things we never would have,” Barcia said. “I would have never been on a nature trail with alligators that close.”

Other than medical appointments for her children, Barcia said she used to rarely leave the house. After getting involved with Pokémon Go, she begged for excursions.

“This is helping my PTSD, I’m going out as a family to do this,” she said.

Kelli Granade, the office manager of the University of Florida’s Linguistics Department, also said she uses the game to spend time with her family. She said one of her fondest memories is running around her neighborhood with her husband and son, trying to catch the rare Pokémon Snorlax.

Humphlett said he had no interest in the Pokémon franchise prior to the game’s release. It was the two youngest of his five sons that convinced him to download the game.

“Seeing the excitement on their faces when they catch something new,” is what he said keeps him coming back to Pokémon Go.

As her son wandered around the coffee shop trying to catch a new Pokémon, Barcia guided her daughter’s fingers across the screen of her phone. Steven paralleled the motion on his phone; they were all laughing.

Swamp Con 2016: An Inclusive, Free Weekend for Fans of Popular Media

Alberto Martinez could only think of one thing as he exited the highway into Gainesville. He had only been here once before, to visit a friend. Although the UCF student could only think about what the convention would have in store for him, he did not realize that it would turn out to be what he considered one of the best weekends he had in a long time.

He was one of the roughly 3,000 people who attended 5th annual Swamp Con. The convention was for fans of a variety of popular media.

21-year-old Derek Delago, one of the organizers, said Swamp Con prides itself in being an inclusive, multi-genre convention. He said that whether you’re a fan of anime, science fiction, tabletop gaming, or video games; the convention will have something for you.

Jennifer Andersen-Peters, 20, found something for her at Swamp Con. She said she was extremely excited to meet the YouTube video game reviewer Dookieshed, having been a fan of the convention guest of honor for over three years.

“This was the first famous person I ever met,” said Andersen-Peters. “It was surreal, I never really thought I would meet him.”

However, as the weekend came to a close, she said she realized that this was not the true highlight. It was meeting new people and experiencing Swamp Con with them that she said she will remember the most about her first convention.

Martinez said he had a similar experience. He said that Dookieshed’s appearance was one of the main reasons why he took the trip from Orlando. However, spending time with new friends was what he said he will remember most.

Roughly 1,000 people went to the first Swamp Con in 2012. This year welcomed a record 3,000. According to Delago, one of the contributing factors to this high turnout is not only quality, but price.

Since its inception, Swamp Con has been free.

“We take a lot of pride in being an inclusive con, and the free price reflects that.”

He said that being a non-profit allows the convention coordinators to use properties that are trademarked for events. Examples include a talent show based around the video game Undertale, and a fan show for Japanese computer characters known as Vocaloids.

“For a free con, it was very well put together, I think it can only get better next year,” said Martinez.

Both Andersen-Peters and Martinez said they were unhappy with the structuring of the schedule, and that it could be made more clear where and when events were being held. However, this complaint didn’t stop either of them from saying they planned to come back next year.

“If you have hesitations about going, just go, for the experience,” said Andersen-Peters. She proceeded to recite the Shia LeBouff quote, “just do it.”