Going pro in a game that began in fantasy

Local student moving up in quidditch world

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 7, 2017

 Yeager practices with members of the Indianapolis Intensity Major League Quidditch team.

Yeager practices with members of the Indianapolis Intensity Major League Quidditch team.

Photo provided by Luke Yeager

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — In the movies, the players don the robes of their schoolhouse, march onto the field and take to the sky.

Zooming around on broomsticks and dodging flying balls, quidditch is a game most know from the pages of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling “Harry Potter” series of books and the movies that have been adapted from those stories.

But what St. Clair Shores native Luke Yeager and many others don’t know is that quidditch is now a “muggle”-adapted game (muggles are nonmagical people in the world of “Harry Potter”) with many of the same components — except, of course, the ability to fly.

Yeager, 21, graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 2013 after attending St. Joan of Arc Catholic School and growing up in St. Clair Shores. Like many students, when he got to Loyola University Chicago, he checked out the student organization fair at his college. He was getting ready to leave when he was pulled aside by a female student who wanted to talk to him about quidditch.

“I’m surprised she didn’t slap me, because I immediately rolled my eyes,” Yeager said. 

But when he learned more, he said he found that quidditch “is actually a sport.”

“People tackle each other. This seemed legit.”

On college campuses across the country, the sport of quidditch is a mixed-gender game that mirrors the imaginary sport created by Rowling, with the limitations imposed by not having magic.

The players still have to be on their “broom” at all times, but it’s actually a length of PVC pipe, not a wooden-handled broomstick. Three chasers are on the field at all times, trying to score points by sending the quaffle — a slightly deflated volleyball — through one of three hoops guarded by the opposing team’s keeper, a player akin to a goalie on defense and a point guard on offense.

At the same time, each team has two beaters who can hit the players with bludgers (dodge balls). There are three bludgers on the field at all times, and if a player is hit, they have to get off their broom. They are out of play until they can run and touch the hoops.

“The beaters essentially play a game of chess, because it’s all about controlling possession,” Yeager said. “It’s a big deal when you can, essentially, knock a bunch of the other team’s players out of the game for a few seconds.”

About 18 minutes into the game, the snitch is released. While in the books and movies the snitch is a small flying golden ball, in the form of the game played by Yeager, it is a player not on either team who has a ball velcroed to his or her body. The snitch runs around on the field evading capture by the team’s seeker by any means possible, even trying to thwart the seeker’s efforts by throwing them to the ground or taking their broom away.

“It’s brutal; it’s not for everybody,” Yeager said.

Despite his initial misgivings, Yeager said he has loved playing the sport in college — which he has done since January 2016 — and traveling to tournaments around the Midwest. He has been voted coach and captain for the Loyola team for next year.

But before play resumes in the fall, he is also going pro.

Yeager tried out for Major League Quidditch in Indianapolis in April, and was surprised to learn that he had made the Indianapolis Intensity team as a chaser.

Major League Quidditch is a national league with 16 teams across the country — and one in Ottawa, Canada — that runs June 1-Aug. 30. According to its website, mlquidditch.com, the goal is “to present quidditch in an elegant, highly consumable form that mirrors other sports’ top leagues.”

“MLQ features standardized schedules, high-level officiating, in-depth statistics and live or pre-recorded footage of all games.”

Yeager will join players from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Kentucky on the Indianapolis Intensity Major League Quidditch team. While there are also leagues in Europe and Australia, the Intensity will play games in Indianapolis, Detroit and Rochester, New York, before heading to the playoffs in League City, Texas. 

“A little over a year ago, I started playing as a joke, and now I’m devoting all my weekends” to quidditch, Yeager said. “Everybody’s friendly and nice to each other in quidditch because everybody’s cut from the same cloth — having a laugh that they’re playing a full-contact sport, tackling while running around on a 3-foot piece of plastic.”

Quidditch is not for the faint of heart, though. 

“It’s not easy on the body,” he said. “I’ve gotten hurt more in a year and a half of quidditch than I have in 12 years in hockey.”

Yeager’s mother, Debra Yarnell, of St. Clair Shores, said she was surprised when her son joined the team — and even more surprised when she saw him play in a tournament at Michigan State University.

While he had read most of the “Harry Potter” books growing up, she said, “he was not a fanatic-type person.”

But she thinks he is doing so well at the game because he excels at sports.

“He’s a very fast runner,” Yarnell said. “That’s why he’s doing well in it, because he’s quick.

“It’s interesting to watch. They’re entertaining.”

To learn more or to watch games from the Indianapolis Intensity or the Detroit Innovators — Michigan’s home team — visit mlquidditch.com.

 “It’s a fun time,” Yeager said. “I’ve always been surprised at how much fun it is, and I never would have expected that I would have a fun time getting tackled on a broom and playing tackle basketball, basically.”

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