Suraj Singh is sprawled on the cold November grass of Cherry Beach Fields, struggling to breathe. He closes his eyes for a minute and when he opens them, paramedics are looking down at him. They try to take his blood pressure, but Singh is shaking, making it difficult to get an accurate reading. One paramedic rips a blanket from his backpack and wraps Singh in it. Then he helps Singh stand up and they walk slowly off the field, so that the Quidditch match can continue.
Quidditch may be the sport Harry Potter played in J.K Rowling’s books, but in recent years it has been adopted to the real world. It’s a real sport and it’s a violent sport. Mixing everything from rugby to dodgeball to capture the flag, with some basketball and soccer thrown in, Quidditch has found its way onto campuses around the world. The International Quidditch Association estimates there are 1,000 teams in the world, with 219 officially registered, mostly in the U.S. Those teams field over 3,200 players, male and female together, and come from as far away as Argentina and Australia.
Singh was playing for the Ryerson Ridgebacks in the Canada Cup. His 5’3 frame collided with a former rugby player on the Ottawa Gee-Gees as they both chased the quaffle on the opening rush. Ryerson lost all three matches at the tournament but it was the loss to the Gee-Gees that really stung. Ottawa handed Ryerson its biggest defeat ever, 270-0.
“We didn’t score a single goal which was disheartening,” Singh said.
The Ryerson team has been trying to get up to Ottawa’s level of play. Singh and Andrew Nguyen founded the team in 2010 while Nguyen was home from Carleton for the summer. Once Nguyen returned to school, Singh was frequently the only one at practice. At first it was just for fun, but as he got more involved in the Quidditch community and began recruiting more players, winning became a more real goal. But getting his team on board with winning is proving to be harder.
“A strength and weakness is that we are less in a competitive mindset and more in the mindset of having fun,” Singh says. “So we have less drive but it doesn’t break your spirit when you lose.”
Singh graduated Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program in June but is still playing with his alma mater. For the first time, they have a full team of 21 players and with more than half of them rookies, he is acting as a coach and player. Singh has enlisted two captains, Sheel Radia and Alex Downey-Ging, to run the team.
And the changing of the guard has begun. Radia and Downey-Ging gather the team every Sunday afternoon for practice. Downey-Ging also covers most of the team fees, over $1,700. She got some money from other players but maxed out her credit card to make sure they could play.
Funding does not come easy for the Ridgebacks, with neither Ryerson Athletics nor the Ryerson Student Union accepting their frequent applications for money. Downey-Ging, now in her third-year of Graphic Communications Management, says she is finding it hard to balance Quidditch and school.
“I’m doing too many things and I need help,” Downey-Ging said.
But it won’t be coming from co-founder Nguyen. Now working at the Toronto Star, Nguyen had been in a similar role as Singh, acting as a player and coach for the Ridgebacks. But a week before Canada Cup, he surprised the team by switching to a new community team, Valhalla. That team features some top talent who’ve graduated from McGill, Queens and Carleton. Nguyen said Valhalla had a better chance to win and that he was tired of people saying he was a good player on a bad team. Singh didn’t feel the same way.
“I totally felt betrayed,” he said.
Singh says that he and Nguyen were both offered spots on Valhalla when it was founded in September. But they agreed that as long as Ryerson was playing in the Canada Cup, they would stay. So Singh was quiet surprised when he got the email confirming Nguyen’s transfer, without Nguyen saying anything to him.
“I was pissed that he didn’t tell us,” Singh said.
Valhalla beat Ryerson 140-50 at the Canada Cup but lost in the quarterfinals to Carleton, 90-40. Singh said after the tournament that he doesn’t think he will play for Ryerson next season and that joining Valhalla is a real possibility.
“Is it a bunch of Harry Potter nerds running around on broom sticks, or is it a real sport?” he said. “It is a sport and in the end you want to win.”
A week after the Canada Cup, Ryerson and Valhalla held a joint practice at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Downey-Ging spent hours on the phone with Ryerson Athletics to secure the three hours in the gym. The season is not over, with Valhalla hosting another tournament at the end of November on the U of T Scarborough campus. Thirteen Ryerson players show up but Singh does not. But there were two new players who have never played before, including Keenan Harris who has a background in motor sports and has only read five of the books.
“It is a lot of fun,” he said with a laugh during a scrimmage. When it was his turn to go, he grabbed a broom and rushed down the court for a scoring chance.
Valhalla wins the first two scrimmages easily but in the third match, Ryerson scored three goals on nice passing between Harris and co-captain Radia for a 30-30.
“I’m happy with that,” Downey-Ging said.