By Peter McMullan
“Quidditch in the Maritimes, to me, has always been a five-year plan. I knew that when I started at Dalhousie University, and I’m confident in that estimate as I get ready to graduate.”
– Paul Gour, founder of the Dalhousie Quidditch Association
The 2013-14 school year brought the first real exposure to quidditch ever at Dalhousie University in the form of a residence event made up of four teams of inexperienced players. Three practices were organized before the tournament to teach the basics, try some drills, and engage in brief scrimmages. With around 10 to 14 people on each team, and approximately 50 spectators on-site, this was an extremely exciting turn out.
The following year saw a massive influx of people at tryouts for two separate teams, Dal Gold and Dal Black. About 60 people attended tryouts, and this group was cut down to approximately 45 players, with 21 players going to Dal Black (the competitive team). Thanks to the number of people involved in quidditch that year, the team was able to get a great deal of funding, new equipment, and a strength and conditioning coach (Ben Singer). Singer and Gour worked many hours in the 2014-15 season, often sacrificing academics to train the team.
“A team at that stage of development is like cheap wine,” Gour said about his efforts. “It’s almost what you want at the beginning, but not quite and then after enough time it becomes really really fun. But ultimately, you often start right back where you started, with a headache and full of experience but without any progress.”
At the same time, Gour worked to promote the growth of Maritimes quidditch by trying to get teams started at Acadia University and Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU). There were people at each university who were interested. Unfortunately, once they realized how much work was required to build a team, they quickly fell out of contact.
Fortunately, the players at Dalhousie were very passionate about quidditch. They practiced twice a week, met up for social events, and even watched USQ World Cup 8 together. It was a team in every sense of the word, but a team with no competition in their region. The lack of competition wore on the team as the year went on; 45 people became 30, and 30 became 25. The last practice of the year was two weeks before exams and had about eight participants.
The 2015-16 school year started with seven veterans, with a few having been with the team since 2013. Dalhousie heavily promoted during orientation week, and the past success of the team allowed Singer and Gour to promote the sport as legitimate and intense. Three tryouts were held, with the expectation that everyone who was serious about the team would come to at least two. A selection committee of three people was used to assess the athletes objectively. There was a roster of 21 people interested in being a travelling, competitive team, and the team signed on two team managers to lighten the administrative load. Each player paid a player fee, which included registration with Quidditch Canada, a complete kit, and a Peterson’s broom.
In November 2015, every single player and both coaches paid out of pocket to fly to Ottawa to represent Dalhousie at the Great Balls of Fire: The uOttawa Annual Quidditch Tournament, Dalhousie’s first competitive tournament. After getting the team’s first recognized win after beating Maple Rush, Dalhousie ended up tying Valhalla Quidditch for seventh out of 10 teams at the tournament.
“The tournament in Ottawa was great, it helped us tighten as a team and a group of friends,” said Taylor Wheatley. “The competitive aspect gave us a view on quidditch we did not have before, a game mentality. We learned how to hype up and stay in the game even between matches.”
Unfortunately, there was little financial support from the school, a result of a decrease in team members to meet the competitive roster size, making the team ineligible for funding. Thus, the team was unable to compile the funds required for travel to the 2015 Quidditch Canada Eastern Regional Championship.
Dalhousie is currently at the beginning of another year, starting with around six veterans (similar to past years). What makes this year even more difficult is that the head coach from the past few years, Paul Gour, has left the team. Gour started quidditch at Dalhousie and has worked amazingly hard to build the team from the ground up. Luckily, the veterans are more involved in the team this year, allowing the team to use more of a group-coaching style. Dalhousie has recently completed promoting the team and currently has 115 people interested in being involved. This hopefully means that Dalhousie will be able to form two teams: one competitive team that will travel, and another that is less competitive and more for those who are interested in playing locally rather than travelling. All of the veterans are extremely excited for the coming year.
Although a couple of the struggles facing this team have already been discussed, there is one that has only briefly been mentioned so far: the physical distance between Dalhousie and the rest of Canadian quidditch. The team’s joking boast – “No. 1 team in Atlantic Canada” – is also what is hurting Dalhousie as an expanding team. Based on calculations from last year, it cost each player $400 to fly to Ottawa to play four games, which means that each player was paying $100 to play a game of quidditch. This is most certainly not sustainable. Since the team cannot afford to pay to play often, this leads to a reduction in morale and attendance as the year goes on and, in turn, makes it difficult to fundraise. This then makes it difficult to travel, which leads to continued reduction in morale. It is simply a vicious circle that gradually eats away at the team each year.
Looking forward, the veterans this year hope to build a team that stays together for the entirety of the year. To achieve this, the team wants to set up a development stream: get high school students interested in the sport and build a B team like in the 2014-15 year. By getting high school students interested, even if they go to a local university that is not Dalhousie, the Dalhousie team could possibly assist in starting a team wherever those students go. Dalhousie also wants to start a city team so that its competitive team will be able to scrimmage against new players every once in awhile. This will hopefully help to expand quidditch in the Maritimes.
On a more competitive note, Dalhousie’s goal is to have the Dalhousie University Quidditch Association grow to the point where the team can host a tournament in Halifax, whether or not more Maritime teams have developed. This would be a true testament to how far the “No. 1 team in Atlantic Canada” has come since 2013.
Paul Gour and Taylor Wheatley contributed to the reporting.