Just like Harry Potter, the bespectacled wizard of book and movie fame, a group of Enloe High School students have sometimes felt like they don't quite fit in. Also like Potter, these students have found a sporting niche and a sense of belonging by riding around on brooms and chasing a magical ball.
Quidditch, the mystical game featured so prominently in J.K. Rowling's Potter books, has found its way to the Muggle (or nonmagical) world of the Triangle.
Many of the local players say they don't have much athletic ability, but that doesn't matter. On the Quidditch field, they feel as buff as the star football player. They feel a sense of accomplishment. They feel accepted.
"We are all a bunch of misfits, and for the most part none of us play sports, but we can come together over this," said Sunni Ryan, 15, the Quidditch team captain at Enloe High in Raleigh.
Athens Drive, Broughton, Cardinal Gibbons and Green Hope high schools in Wake County also have Quidditch teams.
The game has reached college campuses, too, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and N.C. State universities.
Rowling's seven-volume "Harry Potter" series has sold millions of books and spawned a blockbuster movie series. The latest movie - "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" - opened Friday. It is the first of two installments that will end the tale of the boy wizard and his years of training at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
As any Potter fan knows, Quidditch is played in the air on flying broomsticks. Positions include "chaser," "beater" and "seeker" (Harry's position). Players score points with a "quaffle" ball and seek the elusive "snitch."
The games at Triangle schools are a little more down to earth. Players run on the ground with brooms between their legs and try to score by throwing "the quaffle," really a soccer ball, into one of three mounted hula hoops. They dodge beaters, who try to hit them with rubber balls.
On a field behind Enloe last week, students - including one who looks like Potter - practiced for a match.
Nathan LaSala, 14, an Enloe freshman, is a Potter doppelganger with straight, dark hair, glasses and a small, wiry build.
And like Potter, LaSala is good at Quidditch. During Enloe's practice, he scored with the quaffle - no easy feat running with a broom between your legs and people trying to pummel you with a dodge ball.
His mother, Sharon Lubkin, said her son is so happy to be on the team. Not everyone is big and burly and meant for football, she added, but everyone benefits from being part of a group, learning dedication, teamwork and how to have fun.
"He's found his crowd," she said.
Enloe's team grew out of the school's Harry Potter club, founded two years ago as a lark by Abbi Pittman, now a senior. [In full disclosure, she's also the daughter of N&O reporter Sarah Avery.]
"I have a bit of a reputation at school as a Harry Potter nerd," Pittman said.
The sorting hat
The club boasts 70 members and is one of the biggest at the school, she said. Members meet every other Tuesday to watch the movies, discuss the books and play games involving the characters. They even have a sorting ceremony to put members in one of the four houses of Hogwarts - Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, where Pittman was placed.
For the ceremony, Pittman puts a sorting hat on a stool, just like in the books, and uses a microphone and amplifier to make the hat "talk." House selections are based on a personality test that club members take.
Last year, the club decided it needed a Quidditch team to be complete. Tryouts were held in October, and all 20 people who came out made the team, named the Phoenixes after the magical bird in the office of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
"It doesn't matter if you're good," Ryan said. "We're all having fun."
The Green Hope Dementors
Other teams started this year, too. Towqir Aziz, a senior at Green Hope, founded that school's team, the Dementors, which has 27 members and is named after the soul-sucking creatures that guard Azkaban Prison in the books.
They wanted the name to "strike fear in their opponents' hearts," Aziz said.
The games are "pretty serious," Aziz said. "We dress up and stuff and show we are a real sport team."
There are more than 1,000 Quidditch teams around the world, 46 of which descended on New York City last weekend for the fourth annual International Quidditch Association's World Cup. Middlebury College, a Quidditch dominator, won for the fourth time.
Alex Benepe, IQA's co-founder and president, says interest in real life Quidditch has taken off because of the popularity of Harry Potter and because the IQA has worked hard to get its message out. The tournament this year, which was covered by national media, had 750 players and more than 10,000 spectators, Benepe said.
Nick Toptine, a computer science major from Hillsborough, started NCSU's Wolfpack Quidditch team last year.
It now has about 40 members who practice weekly and play tournaments against other universities, including one today that will include teams from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and UNC Greensboro.
"It's so popular because it's just something we grew with as kids," Toptine said. "Everyone has read about Harry and Ron playing Quidditch.
"Quidditch - as a sport - is made for everyone."
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