By Ryan Smythe
We all know that the Boston Night Riders are good at quidditch. Their current streak of 28-0 is rivaled only by the early days of Middlebury, who once dominated the sport as its creators, conquerors, and schedule-manipulators. Arguing that any team even compares to Boston on the pitch before the season starts is a fool’s errand, but it may be appropriate to consider them one of the most important teams for the future growth of quidditch.
Their importance here has nothing to do with the sheer amount of talent on the roster and coaching staff, though that does help. It has to do with how the Night Riders implement their practice squad—Major League Quidditch’s latest innovation. The addition of practice squads comes along with other changes to the rulebook this season, such as timeouts (amazing); limiting resets to one per possession (get ready for a hell of a lot more quaffle movement); and swatting bludgers (I hate everyone involved in making this decision).
“The Boston Night Riders are looking not only to be the three-time, and sole, MLQ champions but to continue the legacy of premiere quidditch athletes developed by those who hail from this fundamental city in our sport,” Jeff Sherman, co-manager of the Riders said via Facebook message.
Jeff may be a bit dramatic, but it’s all just part of his brand | Photo credit: Jeff Sherman.
Sherman, along with the Riders’ co-manager Katie Pieper and coach Harry Greenhouse, purposely looked toward younger players and those still in college to fill up their practice squad, essentially a designated team that allows coaches to keep their game rosters together when running scrimmages. This choice ties into Greenhouse’s recently written op-ed for The Eighth Man on the future of college quidditch and how community players need to step up to ensure that our sport won’t die once our sorry, bitter old asses hang up our cleats for real.
It’s easy to complain about quidditch—about the perceived strength of a region and how it has failed to reach its potential; about the failure of team or league leadership (yet again); about how bad reffing ruined an entire tournament; or anything else. What’s hard is walking the walk after talking the talk. Anyone who’s met Greenhouse knows how good he is at talking—honestly, the only way to stop him is to put food in front of him, and even then you’ll only buy yourself a few minutes at best.
“Experienced coaching can make a huge difference for any team,” Greenhouse wrote. “The experience, wisdom, and training a coach can bestow on a team is hugely beneficial—especially to players who are new to the sport….Community teams and players are the future of quidditch; not only because of their play, but also their ability to create and further develop college programs.”
By filling the practice squad with mostly college players and young talent, Greenhouse, along with Pieper and Sherman, turn their focus to the future of not just their own program, but quidditch as a whole.
Both Greenhouse and Pieper declined to comment on the record regarding the direction the team has chosen to take with their practice squad. However, Greenhouse did comment on the fact that a number of veteran players were included on the practice squad roster, giving the young’uns guiding voices and the stabilizing presence of more developed athletes.
A 30-player roster just isn’t big enough to fit all of the talent in Boston.
It hurts not to make a roster, and I can say that from experience. But in some cases—whether it’s due to wear and tear slowing your step enough for new athletes to catch up, an ever-growing list of injuries, or simply the personal preference of the person deciding the roster—taking the option to step back and fill a leadership role could be the beginning of a new phase of someone’s quidditch career. Or a way to extend their on-field presence to benefit players who need it most. Boston enters the 2017 MLQ season with the highest expectations of any team since the University of Texas during the Augie Monroe years, and I would argue that the expectations better compare to original Middlebury. By placing an emphasis on youth and leadership for the next generation of players, the team makes a clear play to remain at the top of the MLQ heap for years to come. If this groundwork bears fruit, it may mean that they’ll remain the perennial favorites of this league, at least until the rest of MLQ recognizes the importance of growing quidditch from the ground up.
Who knows, maybe the Night Riders will re-awaken Middlebury—the original beast itself—by training up Ian Scura, the school’s first national name in half a decade. Professor Doctor Justin Bogart, Ph.D doesn’t count: once you’ve played long enough to have an exhibit at nationals partially dedicated to you, it’s time to pass the school mantle on to the next generation.