Road to Regionals: How I Learned to Leave Sparta and Love the Skrewts
Yes, I know that this is late and that I’ve been to regionals and back again. But considering how things went for the Spartans (woo for day 2!) and Skrewts (woo for not qualifying in the last spot!), it feels fitting that I finish this thing with this year’s regional fresh on my mind.
Last February I fully embraced my Quidditch Mom status and drove a van full of SJSU quidditch players to regionals. Most of them were rookies on their way to their first regional. In Malik’s case, it was his first tournament altogether. It felt like a good way to head into the end of my quidditch playing career: take the kids to regionals, show them why I love quidditch so much, and then trade in my cleats for a cap and gown.
Yes, I really thought I was just about done playing quidditch. My crown of the oldest woman on a USQ roster was taken by someone five years older than me. (Though unless someone proves otherwise, I think my World Cup 7 appearance at 28 years, 11 months, and 29 days makes me the oldest woman to play in a national/international championship. Looking forward to breaking that at 32 years and 1 day this April!) It was a silly thing that kept me playing when I was starting to think I was too old and better suited to running the sport so that other people could enjoy it.
Unlike previous years, this regional felt like two very different events. If Saturday was about me trying to cope with my last regional and the legacy I was leaving behind, Sunday seduced me into playing another year.
For the third year in a row, our first game at regionals was against the Funky Quaffles. For the second year in a row, they beat us handily. I still remember telling Michael Aguilera that I was sick of seeing his damn team in the post-game hug line. (I guess it took me graduating to break the streak; SJSU didn’t see LBFQ in pool play this year. Finally.)
The Dobbys, UCLA, and Cal games went about the same way. My kids fought hard, I did my best while bemoaning my lack of cardio, but the whole day I was haunted by one thought: if 2014-2015 hadn’t been a disaster, would we have been better off now?
It feels especially true after seeing Anteater Quidditch qualify this weekend. If SJSU had a Jamie Luby instead of two feuding co-captains, our first Arizona regional wouldn’t have been the flash in the pan that it’s now become in hindsight.
With an 0-4 record, SJSU was done for the tournament and I could focus on being a volunteer. That started with being the head referee for the Vipers/Arizona play-in game. The winner would make bracket, the loser would be eliminated.
Now that I’ve hung up my stripes forever—no really, I am sticking with that promise and you’ll understand why in a second—I can publicly admit this: that was not my best game as a referee. I saw and interacted with the Arizona teams less than the rest of the region during my time as West RC, so this was my first real interaction with U of A. That made me nervous. I didn’t want them to hate me feel like I was biased.
The Vipers, on the other hand, I knew well. They’re my neighbors, I’ve known many of them for years, and I knew they played physically and (usually) just within the letter of the rules. Because I was tired from refereeing and playing the day before, keeping up with play was harder than it should have been. I had a lead assistant referee that I trusted (hi, Bogey), so I relied heavily on him when I felt my angles weren’t great.
That made for a situation where Arizona didn’t think I was a good enough referee. I heard them out after the game, stood by my calls, but had to run because I had to be the lead assistant referee for the Dobbys/Utah State game.
After that, I went to HQ, asked to stop refereeing because it felt wrong for a regional coordinator to have a hand in eliminating teams. It just didn’t sit right with my West Mom style. But beyond that, it made me realize that I’d only become a referee because we were short in NorCal. It wasn’t something I wanted to do; it was something I felt obligated to do. If I learned anything from my sabbatical, it’s that I shouldn’t volunteer for things just because they need to be done. Sure, it might be getting done, but it’s not getting done well. So many things need to be done; we shouldn’t depend on the same people to do all of them.
Instead, I became the field manager for pitch one. Little did I know (yep, that’s still a theme) that that decision would make me rethink hanging up my cleats forever. Managing Pitch 1 put me front row center for the Skrewts’ agonizing but ultimately successful bid for their fifth trip to a national/international championship. Seabass Photography followed them around for bracket play and I don’t know if my words can be as compelling as his pictures. Check out the whole album here.
It had been a rough year for them. A lot of the old guard had retired, there was even talk of them disbanding, but here they were winning the games they needed to advance but losing the ones they needed to qualify. While I’d been rivals with them in the past, what I saw that day was a group of my friends fighting hard, doing the thing they loved, and working together to achieve something they’d probably only dreamed of at the beginning of the season.
I started watching them when they came to pitch 1 after losing to the Crimson Elite, knocking them into the consolation bracket. They took the longest road to the last bid: a win against USC to stay alive, a loss to UCLA, and finally a win over the Santa Barbara Blacktips.
I can’t think about that day without stressing out. I can’t look back at these pictures without tearing up a little. And I wasn’t even playing! While no one wants to walk the longest path to the last bid watching it unfold while being unable to leave, watching them fight for that bid was such a compelling narrative to watch unfold.
I love stories. I have a degree in them, after all. But as much as I enjoy writing stories, what I wanted that day was to be a part of a story. That story. That team. That day, I decided that my playing days weren’t over. I was going to trade my Spartan shield for a Skrewt’s exoskeleton.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it before that day, but the Skrewts aren’t really built around a big star like some other teams. They make the most of each player’s potential. The (arguably) most important goal in Skrewts history was scored by Martin Pyne, proving that even the last man on the bench is important. As someone who’d been living on the bench for years, that kind of team appealed to me.
It was amazing watching the Skrewts qualify for the fifth time. I’m lucky enough to have had an easier path with them for their sixth trip. Stay tuned for that story later this week.