Whitehorse muggle represents Canada at quidditch championship

When you spend your time running across a field with a broom between your legs, it's important you're able to laugh at yourself.

When you spend your time running across a field with a broom between your legs, it’s important you’re able to laugh at yourself.

The people who decide to play quidditch have probably heard all the jokes you’re going to come up with.

“Nobody’s too serious about it,” said Whitehorse’s Robyn Fortune.

Fortune, a fixture in Yukon athletics for years, has been named to Team Canada for the Global Games quidditch championship.

On July 19, Team Canada will compete in Burnaby, B.C. against six other teams. They’ll crown an international champion in this relatively young sport.

Competitors are coming from Australia, Belgium, France, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S.

For those unfamiliar with quidditch, the sport was born from the mind of J.K. Rowling in her wildly popular Harry Potter series.

Without the ability to fly, muggle (non-magical) quidditch is more like rugby meets basketball meets sprinting – on brooms.

The pitch is rectangular, usually a modified soccer field or other flat space, with three vertical hoops of varying heights at either end.

Fortune is a chaser, one of three on the field for her team at one time. The chasers’ job is to get the quaffle – a slightly deflated volleyball – though the hoops to score points.

Other players include the beaters, who throw semi-deflated dodgeballs at the chasers, forcing them out of commission for a time.

The keepers’ job is to defend the hoops. The seekers’ job is to catch the snitch.

The flying golden snitch of Potter fame is replaced with a player dressed in gold. When the snitch is caught the game ends.

The game will be familiar to fans of the novels. Minus the flying, the rules are very similar to the ones laid out by Rowling.

Fortune has never read the books.

“Quidditch is competitive now, and it’s attracting a lot of athletes, rather than people who are just fans of Harry Potter. So that’s what boat I’m in,” she said.

She may not know a potion from a patronus, but Fortune knows sports.

Before leaving for McGill she was a powerhouse athlete playing basketball and volleyball.

For the 2012-2013 season she was named female athlete of the year by Volleyball Yukon.

She represented Yukon at the 2013 Canada Summer Games in volleyball and was captain when the Yukon basketball team took home gold at the Arctic Winter Games in 2012.

When she arrived at McGill University two years ago to start a degree in mechanical engineering, she was looking for something new to try as part of orientation week.

“I thought I would try it because I thought it would be fun to say that I’d played quidditch once,” she said.

“It was a lot of fun and a lot harder than I expected. So I just kept coming back.”

Quidditch was adapted for us non-magical folks in 2005. There are now teams at more than 300 universities and high schools across North America, Europe, and Australia.

There are about 20 to 30 teams in Canada.

Fortune says the sport is harder than most people expect.

Running with a broom between your legs is something you get used to, but other skills take more practice.

“The hardest part is that you have to do everything with one hand. You have to catch/pass with one hand, tackle with one hand,” she said.

That’s right, she said tackle. Human quidditch is a co-ed full contact sport.

Similar to football and rugby, players can be hit between the shoulder and the knee and be taken to the ground by the opposing team.

The skills you need to play can come from all sorts of backgrounds. One of the best players on McGill’s team played “really high-level handball,” Fortune said.

“(You need) hand-eye co-ordination, especially being about to catch and pass with one hand, there’s also a big cardio aspect because it’s a running sport, and you have to be pretty tough because you’re going to get tackled.”

McGill’s team was the first university quidditch team in the country. It placed first in Canada at the Canada Cup in 2011 and 2012. This year they placed third.

Try-outs for the national team happened earlier this year in Ontario and B.C. Fortune had already flown home to Whitehorse by then so she took the unusual step of applying through a video.

“There were a lot of drills you had to do and record yourself. Some timed sprints, some passing drills with another person. There was also a section where you had to include some game play footage from your school team.”

She sent off her video and got an email that she’d made the team.

Team Canada assistant coach Rebecca Alley said Fortune’s “playing style fit in very well with what we needed for a female chaser.”

Alley talks about her players the way a coach would talk about his or her paid professional athletes.

She praises Fortune’s aggressive nature and “play around the hoops” but doesn’t want to go into too many details in case other teams read what she’s said.

Alley said most of the people who are attracted to the game are either Potter fans or people interested in the athletic challenge. They stay for the community.

“Most of us are university students living away from home,” she said. “So we really do become family.”

Team Canada is still working on fundraising to get the whole team to B.C. They finished a crowd-sourcing campaign and are also selling jerseys and trading cards. If anyone is interested in helping out, they can email teamcanadaquidditch@gmail.com.

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