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Quidditch competition was a magical experience for RHS grad

Jared Sipe competed for Team USA in the Olympic Expo Quidditch games in Oxford, England.

While hundreds of American athletes make final preparations for next month's Olympic Games in London, Jared Sipe got his Olympic experience a little bit early.

Last weekend, the Rosemount High School graduate competed for Team USA in the Olympic Expo Quidditch games, a five-team international tournament held in Oxford, England to correspond with the arrival of the Olympic torch in that city.

Team USA won the tournament against teams from England, Australia, Canada and France. Organizers told Reuters they hoped would help build momentum for making quidditch an Olympic sport. The win meant Sipe got to play in an exhibition at the torch ceremony, an event otherwise open only to Oxford residents.

It was a pretty big step for someone who played his first quidditch game two years ago. Then again, quidditch itself didn't exist in the real world until 2005, when some students at Middlebury College translated it from the pages of the popular Harry Potter series of books.

Sipe had read all of the Harry Potter books and seen the movies when he played his first quidditch game in an intramural league during his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, but it was the athletic aspects of the game that most interested him. Sipe was captain of the RHS soccer team and has played lacrosse and basketball. The skills he learned in those sports translated well to the quidditch field.

"Quidditch, like the other sports I play, is very competitive," Sipe said by email from Seville, Spain, where he is participating in a study abroad program. "I really enjoy being involved in sports."

It's hard to talk about the basics of quidditch without sounding like you're reading from the rough draft of an undiscovered Dr. Seuss book. The goal of the game is to throw a volleyball -- which on the quidditch pitch is known as a quaffle -- through one of three scoring rings. Play continues until one team is able to snatch the snitch. That is, until someone is able to grab a tennis ball that is carried around in a yellow sock tucked into the waistband of the snitch runner, a non-partisan participant whose role involves running around a pre-determined area while trying to avoid the seekers -- essentially, the snitch-snatchers -- from both teams.

Sipe, a materials science and engineering major entering his junior year, is a keeper, the quidditch equivalent of a goalie, but he's also involved in the offense.

"Being 6-3 helps playing keeper because I can catch and throw the quaffle higher in the air and try to score over other players," said Sipe, whose nickname is Sniper.

Sipe got more serious about quidditch during his sophomore year, trying out for the U of M's competitive team. He traveled around the country playing quidditch and helped the team to a final-four finish in last November's quidditch world cup in New York. His teammates nominated him for the national team. He was one of 150 people nominated.

Sipe paid part of his travel expenses, but the International Quidditch Association covered most of the cost.

"This opportunity was only available because of quidditch,"?Sipe said.

Sometimes, the entire progression from once-a-week games with friends to international competition can seem a little hard to believe.

"I would never have guessed that I would travel not only across the United States with the U of M team but also internationally to play quidditch," Sipe said. "I certainly never expected to be traveling to England to play during the summer."

It's a little like magic, something Harry Potter would no doubt appreciate.