Dissecting the Community Team Problem

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Great Lake Community @ Super Ball Brothers Brawl 2015 | Photo credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

By Ali Markus

And so goes the annual post-Cup mild depression…

Every year it’s the same. There’s this crazy lead-up in March where the countdowns start getting real and everyone is hype to play each other and watch it all go down. Then you get there and all the friends you never get to see are surrounding you in real life and supporting each other and cheering and heckling and reminding you to put on more sunscreen. But before you know it they call the final snitch grab good, three whistles blow, and…it’s all over. Volunteers tear down the hoops, award medals to the right team, and everyone goes home.

And the community team chaos starts. This year that specific chaos was slightly postponed by the general chaos of unilaterally inaccurate and excessive punishments, but still—it has begun like clockwork nonetheless.

The weeks after the national tournament are chaotic every single year. Emotions run high because, collectively, we are still high on the adrenaline buzz that even a slowball-final can’t kill, and everyone who has graduated or is graduating is being thrust into an uncertain void. Will I have a team next year? Will I get to keep playing? Will my team exist next year?

Great Lakes Community Teams

In my region, community teams have a terrible time getting off the ground. I’ve been involved with most of them, and it’s all past-tense. Before you pull the Taylor Swift card and tell me that maybe I’m the common denominator, remember that she wouldn’t have written those songs if she hadn’t felt wronged.

Blue Mountain Quidditch Club (BMQC) died because everyone hated that it consisted of a bunch of cocky misfits and was named after one of the most vulgar shows on television. Next year, old BMQC players started Great Lakes Community Quidditch (GLCQ). According to what I remember, internal conflict arose as soon as GLCQ was born. From the very beginning, problems reared and never let up.

First amongst these was that old players from BMQC wanted to maintain original BMQC branding. However, GLCQ was attracting players new to community quidditch who had until then only played at universities such as Ball State University or Central Michigan University. These new players, unlike the old BMQC players, were really invested in helping shape GLCQ into a new community team with a singular identity. They did not feel attached to BMQC branding like old BMQC players did.

More predominantly, although originally there was no real objection to forming an A and B-team, many were angry over the way those teams came to be formed.

GLCQ was technically led by myself, Matt Dwyer (the only member of leadership who was not ex-BMQC), Ashley Calhoun, and Chris Barnard, but many of the players idolized—and felt a certain amount of competitive empathy with—John Gaffigan.

Gaff was the president of BMQC, and when GLCQ formed, this role unofficially rolled over to the new organization. This ambiguity—and confusion of leadership—was present from the start. Gaff had been disappointed by BMQC’s Elite 8 run at nationals the year before, and he fought for GLCQ to be a super competitive team.

BMQC was the first Great Lakes community team that ever did anything competitively significant. Once Luke Changet left and the team dissolved/transitioned into GLCQ, BMQC players were under the impression that the BMQC team they’d played with all the season before was expanding—not that they were technically transitioning onto an entirely new squad. Leadership was less communicative than they should have been, and everyone suffered for it.

Lake Effect Tempest and Lake Effect Maelstrom @ Great Lakes Regionals 2015 | Photo credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

Although technically Tempest and Maelstrom were B and A-teams, there was very little crossover with their direct oversight and leadership. More accurately, the teams were structured like league quidditch, where both teams drew from a common pool of players and shared set finances. The way things worked was this: Maelstrom drew all of the extremely competitive players from the pool; everyone else was left for Tempest. If Maelstrom felt like players were underperforming or not living up to expectations, those players were given the cold shoulder, effectively banishing them to Tempest. The “losers.” It was all very reminiscent of getting picked for dodgeball in gym class.

Tempest’s M.O. was to attend tournaments where the players could have a good time. Quidditch was about having fun, bonding with friends, enjoying wins, but never mourning losses. Tempest had the chemistry, but not necessarily the skill.

Maelstrom was exactly the opposite. More than just competitive, the only thing they bonded over was the desire to win games. This is obviously fine if your roster is synthesized, but the team was made up of winners who never lost, who had spent the entirety of their quidditch careers as the best players on their teams. Hero ball or nothing. They’d never had to learn to work with others. Maelstrom had the skill, but never, ever the chemistry.

The “Superteam” Model

Community teams keep dying because they want to be successful but aren’t willing to take the time to make things work. Players consistently continue to build superteams of talented players who end up hating each other, and this is an ineffective model for success.

Here’s the thing: I am part of the problem, and I have no problem recognizing my responsibility here.

I am someone who needs everything to be squared away at all times—right after Cup ends every year, I am ready to start working on next season. What team am I on? When are practices? Who is running things? Who else is joining? When ideas percolate through a community, they don’t do so straightforwardly. They disseminate. They spread. They warp. That scares the crap out of me, and I don’t respond well to it. I know I talk too much, and I’m abrasive, which stops me from being succinct or persuasive, and I don’t really know how to force self-change or—more importantly—community change.

I have spent my entire quidditch career fighting. I live tournament-to-tournament and never know where my next roster spot is coming from. I’m also a mid-tier player who has been on the sidelines for a year, and so on top of being scared, I am rusty. I, therefore, compensate by trying to get all of the administrative stuff organized as soon as possible. I have been burned by leadership in the past, and taking the reins is the only way I know to make myself feel safe. I’ve tried and failed to start teams in Indiana. I’ve had teams pulled out from under me through the pettiness and egos of the superteam logic.

BMQC won a lot but was obnoxious—instead of joining and working on the culture of the team, start a brand new one and toss BMQC in the trash.

Malestrom and Tempest didn’t win a lot. Players would switch teams in the hopes of winning instead of working hard together to build roster synergy and learn to work with their teammates. Why learn to build a team from the ground up when you can play with a team built from winners? How do we bring all of these elements together and make them sustainable?

Community teams in the Great Lakes have continued to be made up of the same core of people, with a rotating cast on the edges. They don’t reach out to their larger communities to recruit. Everyone knows Chris Barnard’s name now, but do you know how he found quidditch? The “Ain’t No Hoe in Me” video about Texas Quidditch popped up on Facebook, and he reached out to school teams that never responded. He had to search high and low through Facebook to find a regional coordinator to get BMQC’s contact info. One of the Great Lakes’ biggestliterallycommunity players had to do all the legwork to get himself involved. That’s not growth, that’s luck, and until we become a community intent on reaching outward to draw new talent in, quidditch is on the verge of collapse.

What if Maelstrom and Tempest had worked together to develop each other as players instead of shunting the ones they deemed mediocre to the side?

Community Teams

I always have been and always will be whimsy’s biggest defender. I play this sport because of Harry Potter, and whether you like it or not, you do too. You can claim it’s not about The Boy Who Lived anymore; you can say that it’s “evolved so far past that!”; you can tell me you’re “just here for the competition” all you want. But you cannot pretend that this sport would exist without Harry Potter. It wouldn’t.

But my rage doesn’t even come down to whimsy, not really. It’s about the idea of what a team should be.

Is it that players on community teams don’t care about each other?
Of course they do.

Is it that community teams exist solely to win?
Of course they don’t.

Are they trying to take over the sport and competitively push out college teams simply by virtue of being a community team?
Of course that depends on who you ask. But no.

Am I getting off track and veering into my opinion on the looming split?
Of course I am. Back to my point….

A community team should be exactly that: a community. The quidditch community tends to ignore the fact that sports fulfill emotional needs just as much as they fulfill physical ones. People don’t keep playing quidditch after graduation because they have an emotional need to win games. They keep playing this sport post-grad because they want to continue being on a team. And when those teams implode from a lack of cohesion, a lack of practice, poor gameplay results, and negative outside perceptions, the region loses continuity. No one can find a foothold in the post-college quidworld, because we have this revolving door of teams. How are you supposed to find a team that feels like family if every team keeps splintering on a yearly basis like clockwork? The need for a personal community within our greater one is not being met, and that needs to be changed.

The Indianapolis Intensity is a team that has retained its veterans, accepted its n00bs, and cultivated a culture of competition and camaraderie side by side | Photo credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography

Moving Forward

I wish I had advice for how to fix this community team problem, but I’m coming up short. I know that despite my continual assertion that spreadsheets are the answer to everything, my Google Drive full of them hasn’t fixed things yet.

Community-wide, quidpeople need to change their attitudes, but that onus lays on everyone. The current toxic environment hurts us all. Creating a positive environment would hurt no one.

Why did you keep playing quidditch? It doesn’t matter why you started—why did you continue? Why are you still here? Is it because of your team? Probably.

Maybe this article was just me dragging the whole region into my own personal therapy session. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to do. Our teams become our families because we win lose and fight together. We share the same victories, hate the same rivals. But we also need to commit to each other. I’ve been on too many teams that have become my family only to be left with a Facebook friends list of “former teammates” and a graveyard of dead group chats.

Group chats don’t win championships, but they do get you through a Wednesday where you spill coffee on your pants and get stuck in traffic. The hardest part of transitioning from a college to a community team is not being around your teammates every day. It’s an allegory for that entire transition from school to the real world, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Isn’t camaraderie in the face of adversity not the entire point of quidditch?

Why do you play this dumb nerd sport if you just want to show up, win games, and go home?

Why aren’t you building yourself a soft place to land when the going gets tough?

Why would you want to play for community team if you didn’t want to be a part of a community?

Sure, you can find yourself a family in a million other ways through a million other avenues, and I’m not trying to argue that you should make quidditch the crux of your social life. I am, however, asking that if you choose to take part in quidditch, you commit to quidditch, and I’m not talking about competition. I’m talking about the people that make it happen for all of us. For you and me. Us.

How do we fix the problem with community teams? The hell if I know.

Objectively, it seems like a trick question: Go all in. Sacrifice your ego for the sake of team sustainability. Be there. Wear your jersey.

All of the above works for Intensity—I’ve been part of that team since its inception, and you know what hasn’t changed? The jerseys. The orange. My best fucking friends.

The community team problem is so ingrained that surely there has to be a more complicated solution…doesn’t there?

Honestly? I don’t think so.

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