William Woods freshman wants to bring Quidditch to Fulton

Alex Burns, William Woods University freshman, poses for a photo wearing her authentic Ravenclaw cloak outside Dulany Auditorium on Thursday. Burns is the founder of West Woods, a Quidditch team combining William Woods and Westminster College students.

Alex Burns, William Woods University freshman, poses for a photo wearing her authentic Ravenclaw cloak outside Dulany Auditorium on Thursday. Burns is the founder of West Woods, a Quidditch team combining William Woods and Westminster College students. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

When the first Harry Potter movie came out in theaters in 2001, the book and movie series became a part of Alex Burns’ life.

She started attending midnight release parties of the books and midnight premieres of the movies dressed in her Harry Potter gear. At her Christian elementary school, she would find herself in trouble for even talking about Harry, Hogwarts, Hagrid or anything magical.

After graduating from high school her parents gifted her a week-long trip to anywhere she wanted — and she picked the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. The happiness was so overwhelming she cried.

“I think I always wished I was part of it … Now, I think what could I do to be a part of this world?” Burns said.

She may have found the answer in Quidditch — the primary sport played at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that has become an international sport in the Muggle (non-magical) world.

Burns, a freshman at William Woods University, has formed West Woods, a Quidditch team of Westminster College and William Woods students.

The total number of players fluctuates, Burns said, but a team of nine competed against the University of Missouri — which sometimes has enought players to form an A and B team — on Saturday. Mizzou players have been helping Burns start West Woods and have even ran practices to show the new players basic rules and strategies.

Burns has been familiar with the sport, however. She started a Quidditch team her senior year at El Capitan High School in Lakeside, Calif., rallying her friends in marching band and color guard. Her dedication went far enough that she created the team’s equipment herself.

While in high school, the El Capitan High School Quidditch team played in a mini-tournament against three Los Angeles high school teams and “lost miserably,” Burns said.

The competitiveness of Quidditch on the collegiate level attracted Burns to continue playing the sport and rallying local students to do the same.

One of those students is Westminster sophomore Jordan Oberhaus, who was a year-round high school athlete, participating in football, wrestling and volleyball.

Oberhaus said Quidditch offers an outlet for him to stay active and have fun, but unlike popular sports which are televised and familiar in everyday life, it has a greater appeal because of its mystery.

“I like that it tries to play off the fantasy, something most sports don’t offer,” Oberhaus said. “We know and see how to play football, baseball and everything. It motivates you to feel more…”

Like Burns and so many others around the world, the Harry Potter series holds a strong place in the majority of Oberhaus’ life. The first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” was published in 1997 and the final movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” premiered in 2011.

Quidditch, Oberhaus said, is a way for him to maintain youthfulness of his adolescence, which seems to be waining as he progresses into adulthood.

“(There’s) a desire to go out and play and enjoy something from our childhood,” Oberhaus said.

Imagination, he added, is a useful tool when playing the sport.

“It makes for a better time … If you have it, I definitely think it enhances the game and the feel of (Quidditch),” Oberhaus said.

Quidditch is also unique in the sense that it’s a coed contact sport that is trying to promote gender inclusiveness in sports. There is a “two-minimum” gender rule, which means there must be “at least two players on the field who identify with a different gender than at least two other players,” according to the International Quidditch Association (IQA). The rule also states that a person’s gender does not have to match his or her sex, making the sport also transgender inclusive.

“The IQA accepts those who don’t identify within the binary gender system, and acknowledge that not all of our players identify as male or female,” the IQA website states.

As a female athlete and former soccer goalie, Burns said she appreciates how Quidditch is attempting to break what is standard in sports. Burns plays chaser, Quidditch’s main scoring and offensive position.

Burns said she thinks the “two-minimum” gender rule makes Quidditch more competitive, and while she doesn’t always enjoy tackling, Burns can take a hit. She said she’s noticed it takes time for the guys to warm up to the idea they can tackle the girls.

“We’re not weak. Stop thinking of us (women) as weak,” Burns said. “Quidditch is trying to get rid of that stereotype of girls and sports.”

According to the IQA, more than 300 certified teams play the game, including big names like Texas A&M (ranked No. 1), Boston University (No. 2), Baylor University (No. 7), University of Arkansas Razorback (No. 11) and Penn State University (No. 17) in the top 20 standings.

West Woods is currently an uncertified team. Burns hopes the team will grow and be certified by her junior year at William Woods. She welcomes athletes, non-athletes, Harry Potter fans and those who’ve never heard of The Boy Who Lived to come out and play.

“You really have to try it to know if it’s for you,” Burns said.

When she returns home to San Diego for the summer, Burns will repack a treasured souvenir she received from her grandma — an authentic Ravenclaw robe. She identifies with the Hogwarts House, which is full of people who are constant learners and overall, she said, “pretty random.”

“I’m trying to play Quidditch, which is pretty random,” Burns said.

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