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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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.”