Members of the Philadelphia Honey Badgers practice Quidditch at FDR Park

John Bridstrup doesn’t even like Harry Potter that much. But on Sunday mornings and for tournaments throughout the year, he puts a broomstick between his legs and coaches the Philadelphia Honey Badgers, the co-ed Philadelphia Quidditch team that plays the sport — inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series — competitively against professional and college teams from across the region.

This Sunday morning at FDR Park in South Philly, Bridstrup was coaching his muggle teammates on how to properly tackle one another (yes, it’s a full tackle sport) so that they can still hold the sticks between their legs. And when a game is live, the players will be battling with at least four balls that are in play at the same time. Welcome to the world of Quidditch.

This team of about 25 players, from college-aged students to adults in their 30s, is gearing up for their season competing in the U.S. Quidditch league, and they have their sights set on a bid for the national championships that take place in April. And they’re getting serious to attain their goals.

“[Quidditch] used to be for kind of the nerdy athlete,” Bridstrup, a graduate student at Drexel, said. “But I don’t even really like Harry Potter. I’m not a super fan. This is just a great sport.”

Members of the Philadelphia Honey Badgers practice Quidditch at FDR Park.
Members of the Philadelphia Honey Badgers practice Quidditch at FDR Park. Credit: Anna Orso/Billy Penn

How the game works

Quidditch is like an odd mixture of lacrosse, basketball, rugby and dodgeball.  Each team has seven people on the field, and the main part of the game takes place as three chasers are attempting to send the “quaffle” (a deflated volleyball) through three different hoops that are on either end of the field by advancing the quaffle downfield and avoiding being tackled. Goals scored are worth 10 points for that team. Meanwhile, “beaters” use “bludgers” (kickballs) to get out members of the other team by hitting them with the dodgeball, rendering them “out” until they touch their own goal.

While all this is going on, at some point during the game the “snitch” enters play — that’s the little golden flying nugget thing that you’re probably most familiar with from the movies. Each team has one “seeker” who is trying to catch the snitch, which is essentially a tennis ball inside a sock that’s stuffed into a neutral person’s shorts. The team that wins the snitch first gets 30 points and the game is over. Games typically last somewhere around 20 or 30 minutes, but can go longer as there’s no real time limit.

Here’s how the snitch works:

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Oh, and the whole time they have to have that damn broomstick between their legs. Most people run while holding onto it with one hand, and use two hands to catch (there is some serious thigh-clenching going on here).

These rules were established in accordance with U.S. Quidditch, a growing league founded in 2010 that has become the national governing body for the sport. Now, nearly 200 teams and 4,000 people across the country are involved. And despite how silly people look running around the field with a stick between their legs, the burgeoning sport is one of the fastest-growing in the country.

The popularity of the game really grew on Hogwarts college campuses over the last several years since it began at Middlebury College in 2005 during the height of Harry Potter-mania. The first Quidditch World Cup was held two years later, and now thousands of people on college campuses and in the community take part in the once-fictional sport — while many of them are fighting for its legitimacy.

Members of the Philadelphia Honey Badgers practice Quidditch at FDR Park.
Members of the Philadelphia Honey Badgers practice Quidditch at FDR Park. Credit: Anna Orso/Billy Penn

The Philadelphia Honey Badgers

Growing out of college students in the area who wanted to branch off into something more competitive, the Philadelphia Honey Badgers were born in 2012. And while most people there weren’t on the original team, they assume the name came from this: (Remember? “Honey badger don’t give a shit.”)

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During practice last Sunday, those who showed up to the field just outside the American Swedish Historical Museum split up into groups based on positions and ran drills. One group worked on form for the best way to be a “beater,” or the person who throws kickballs at other people during game play. Another group worked to field passes and immediately score in the hoop. Then they took part in a tackling workshop, because yes, it’s hard to tackle someone while you’re clutching a broomstick.

Members of the team range in experience level, from beginners (people who showed up to pickup practices who literally never played before) to well-oiled Quidditch machines who have been playing for years.

Stephen Jaworski, a 21-year-old Drexel student studying chemistry and pre-med, is one of the team’s veterans. After playing with Drexel’s Quidditch team, Jaworski wanted something a bit more competitive — so he tried out for the Philadelphia Honey Badgers so he could get the experience of playing against professional teams in their region that stretches from North Carolina to Rutgers University.

The team plays some single games, but mostly enrolls in tournaments all fall and winter that are registered with U.S. Quidditch and go toward the overall, national standings. Last year the Honey Badgers didn’t qualify for the playoffs, which take place in the spring. But Jaworski and coach Bridstrup say that this year, the team is re-focusing its efforts on recruiting the best athletes it can.

“To play this sport, you’ve gotta be a pretty good athlete,” Bridstrup said. “And our goal is to be as competitive as possible.”

For more information on the Philadelphia Honey Badgers or if you’re interested in being a part of the magic, visit their website.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.