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Players, mount your broomsticks! Kansas City's semi-pro quidditch team hits the pitch

Miguel Esparza
Major League Quidditch
Katelyn Branstetter, chaser for the Kansas City Stampede, a semi-pro Major League Quidditch team, goes up against the keeper from the Austin Outlaws.

Members of the Kansas City Stampede, not all of them drawn to the sport by their love of Harry Potter, prepare for their first and only home match of the season.

It’s a scorching, sticky June afternoon in Eastern Kansas. Under the generous shade of an oak tree, members of the Kansas City Stampede guzzle water and chat about the latest episode of “Obi-Wan Kenobe.”

After a few minutes, coach Adam Heald says “Let’s go, Stampede.” They head back onto the pitch and mount broomsticks, running drills in preparation for their upcoming match with the San Antonio Soldados.

It's time to play quidditch.

“It’s a high intensity, full contact, co-ed sport,” explains Austin Pitts, the Stampede’s manager.

The sport debuted in popular imagination in 1997, introduced in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,” but the non-magic version formulated on a Vermont college campus in 2005.

A decade later, the sport is played on campuses, communities and clubs throughout the world. Kansas City Stampede is part of Major League Quidditch, founded in 2015 in the United States.

There’s no flying, but an elaborate mix of soccer, basketball, rugby, dodgeball, wrestling and volleyball. Each team has three hoops of differing heights, raised 3-6 feet in the air on opposite sides of the pitch. Chasers try to get the quaffle (a volleyball) into one of the hoops (for 10 points), while beaters throw dodgeballs at them to knock them out of the game. Keepers protect the hoops.

In the original fantasy game, the final ball — the snitch — is a golden winged ball. Here, it's an MLQ official, who wears a tennis ball on a tail (similar to flag football). The official enters during the second half of the game and does everything in their power to evade each teams' seekers, who are vying for a snitch grab which allots their team 45 points.

Unlike the original version, catching the snitch doesn't automatically win the game, with teams battling to a set point score in the second half. Different colored headbands distinguish a player's role on the pitch.

Chaos is one of the sport’s charms.

Miguel Esparza
Major League Quidditch
Left to right: Kansas City Stampede chaser Sydney Boeger, beater Lauren Curry and chaser Sena Morimoto.

“It kind of feels like there are two games within the game,” says Heald. “Most other sports are focused around one ball…with quidditch there are four balls, so it’s a very interesting challenge.”

“It’s beautiful to watch high tier game play,” says Pitts.

Both Pitts and Heald were Harry Potter fans growing up, learned about the sport while in high school and joined the University of Kansas quidditch team in college, where they served as co-captains.

The sport was not what they had imagined, though.

“I was like ‘oh my gosh’,” says Pitts. “It was just eye-opening how intense and competitive and how passionate everyone was about the sport. I was hooked right away.”

The Kansas City Stampede was founded in 2016, part of MLQ’s first expansion, and it’s the only MLQ team in the region. Most of the Stampede’s players come from regional collegiate clubs: University of Kansas, University of Missouri, and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, with a recruiting radius of 200 miles. During the academic year, they’re friendly rivals. During the summer, they’re teammates.

And while the Harry Potter aspect is often what intrigues people about the sport, it’s the competition and the camaraderie that sustains them.

At practice, beater Keighlyn “KJ” Johnson is wearing a forest green “Slytherin Alumni” cap. It’s her first year with the Stampede. She’s been playing for a year with the University of Missouri team, which, she says, was a big reason she went to Mizzou.

It’s also her first time playing sports with people who aren’t women, having grown up on volleyball and softball teams.

“I felt a little intimidated at first, because I’d never played on a team with guys,” she says. “It was really weird, and then as you go into it…you don’t even look at it as we’re different anymore…we’re just playing a sport we love.”

Cassie Florido
Major League Quidditch
Kansas City Stampede chaser Katelyn Branstetter throws the quaffle in a game against the New Orleans Curse.

Kate Rues, who plays chaser and keeper, is in her second year with the Stampede. She’s not a huge Harry Potter fan, but during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, she and a friend were driving through Lawrence, Kansas, when they spotted hoops in a foggy field where some people were practicing. They watched a while, started chatting, and were invited to practice the next day.

“It became my only social outing, which I would never have played quidditch before, and then I just met the coolest people ever,” she says.

“If you are willing to wear a broomstick between your legs in public then obviously you don’t have insecurity, so you are meeting the most secure people in the world, who are very outgoing,” Rues says. “They aren’t scared of perceptions.”

(“Broomsticks” are often made from PVC pipe, ¾ inch diameter and about 40 inches long, sans bristles.)

Miguel Esparza
Major League Quidditch
Kansas City Stampede chaser Darian Murcek-Ellis runs with the quaffle.

“I think it’s really cool that we get to play with people of all genders and they can fit any role,” says Heald. “The dynamic of all those little details of the sport come together and make it kind of crazy and fun to watch and to play.”

Both Major League Quidditch and US Quidditch, which governs collegiate teams, are advocates for gender equity, and the sport welcomes transgender players and non-binary players.

There’s still work to do. The league has a “two-minimum” rule, stating that at least two players from a team must have a different gender than the others on the field, but some clubs translate that as two women maximum, making it more difficult for women to participate in game play.

A third of the Stampede’s players are women. Katie Branstetter is assistant coach, and previous leadership also included women, with players who went on to play for Team USA in the Quidditch World Cup.

As the Stampede prepares for its first and only home match of the season, drills take each player through an intense round robin where they play each position. It’s a young team. Most of the players have two to three years of playing experience.

But Heald is excited about their chances. At a scrimmage earlier this season, the first time the team had really had the opportunity to play together, they won all three of their games against the Indianapolis Intensity.

“We have a lot of good athletes this year,” he says.

Libby Hanssen
Members of the KC Stampede semi-pro quidditch team practice in Roe Park in Overland Park, Kansas.

But they’re up against San Antonio’s team, regarded as one of the best in the league.

“I think we can hang, at a physicality level, but they bring a lot of experience to the table,” Heald says of San Antonio.

“Consistently, out of roughly twelve teams, we are sitting on the very edge of the top six and that’s always where our goal is, to show that we are in the upper half of the league,” says Pitts.

“We are very confident in our ability to make champs, and I think we can put up a fight with the best of teams,” says Pitts, though he adds that it’s not always about winning, but competing.

“Everyone has a lot of heart,” says Rues. “It’s the oddest sport, but the most spirit out of any sports team ever.”

The Kansas City Stampede plays the San Antonio Soldados at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 2, at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City’s Swope Park, 6310 Lewis Rd, Kansas City, Missouri, 64132.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She's written for KCUR, KC Studio, The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, and KCMetropolis. Libby maintains the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich and writes poetry and children's books. Along with degrees in trombone performance, she was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University.
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