By Elizabeth Barcelos
As the fifth iteration of Crimson Cup approaches, co-hosts and namesake Crimson Elite quidditch will be competing unofficially. How did one of the most storied franchises in the sport come to find themselves in these circumstances? I sat down with captains Katie Shields and Ray Taylor to find out.
(What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for grammar and clarity. In parenthesis are any comments I added after the fact.)
Elizabeth Barcelos: I’ll cut to the chase – there has been a lot flying around about your team, so let’s talk about it. Your team is playing unofficially at Crimson Cup. Why?
Ray Taylor: Katie, do you want to take this part?
Katie Shields: Yeah. So, at the end of July and beginning of August, we started putting the word out that we’d be doing tryouts. We advertised on Facebook, even paid for ads, we hung flyers downtown and in various parks around Salt Lake City, but only a few people showed up.
I think the biggest hit that Crimson’s facing is that after last season, we saw so many of our core players retire. We’re talking people like Gina Allyn, George Williams, Lexi…
Taylor: Lexi Harrison, Rebecca Lewis, it seems like we also lost Allison Froh. Core players from Crimson Elite that people have known for years and years.
Barcelos: Yeah, most of the players you named played longer than I did.
Taylor: But going further back, some people have spoken to me who believe that Crimson has been on the decline ever since the split between Crimson Elite and Crimson Fliers, before Katie and I joined. (Crimson Quidditch split into an A-team and a B-team in the 2014-2015 USQ season.) Once that happened, there was already a divide. That was me and Katie’s first year with Crimson Quidditch. I played for Elite, she played for Fliers.
Then, last season, the University of Utah started their own team, which was great for the growth of the sport. On the other hand, that contributed to Crimson’s downfall this year along with seeing so many of our veterans retire. Several Crimson Elite players from last year who were still students at the University of Utah are now playing for the Raptors.
Shields I reached out to several students who were on Crimson Elite last year, and they said that one of the biggest draws for them to go to the Raptors instead of the Elite is that the Raptors are eligible for club funding from the University of Utah. That would help with travel, something especially hard for us on the West Coast.
Utah’s college quidditch scene is growing, and while that’s great for new players, it’s forcing the older teams through some new growing pains. Photo credit: Sofia de la Vega Photography
Barcelos: Yeah, travel hits you guys especially hard. Logan (where Utah State is located) is only an hour and a half away, but after that, the closest West teams to you are eight (Flagstaff, home of NAU) to 12 hours (San Francisco Bay area) away.
Shields Exactly. They also mentioned location. The University of Utah is right downtown and a lot of students don’t have cars. It’s easier for them to train with a team that practices walking distance from where they live.
Barcelos: Yeah, when I started hearing the rumors about your team, I was thinking about the Raptors. Do either of you guys remember the Santa Barbara Blacktips?
Taylor: I do! From when I played with Southern Storm.
Barcelos: Okay, cool. So for everyone who doesn’t know, the Blacktips existed in this middle area very much like Crimson Fliers used to. They were a community team (the difference was not as stark then as it is now) in a college town and most – but not all – of them went to UC Santa Barbara. Once the college/community split happened, the team just… disappeared. Some of them had graduated, some of them were local, but they couldn’t keep existing in this middle area of being a college team but not quite, so they folded.
Anyway, after the University of Utah got its own team after the split happened but students at the U stayed on Crimson, I thought that was kind of odd. On the other hand, Crimson Elite was a very established program and the Raptors were not, so I could see how people wanted to stay with the team they started on instead of struggle with a brand new team. But those are the people you mentioned: the players who are done.
Taylor: It’s great that the University of Utah has its own team. A D1 school with a huge campus and a large student body to draw from. For them to become an established team and continue to grow, Salt Lake City quidditch can only get better. Before we had a college team, Salt Lake only had Crimson Elite (or the Crimson Fliers, as the main team was called from 2010-2014). But now that there is this college team, it’s harder to keep the community team alive.
Shields Yeah, yeah. I think what USQ expected to happen after the split was that when people who are on university teams graduate, they would just merge into community teams. Part of our problem, after all the retirements, was that because the Raptors were so new, there was no one graduating to join Crimson. So maybe in a few years, but it just goes to show…. Is Crimson Elite even going to be around for them to merge into?
Also, I think a lot of people will agree with this. Quidditch can be… a lot. There are times, especially towards the end of the season, that I am burnt out. Not only physically, but financially, it’s a big burden.
Taylor: I was talking to Katie about this earlier. My mom taught me to be a Southern lady, but also didn’t raise me to be a coward. So I’m just going to say it: I think Utah quidditch players don’t want to commit. Katie and I have witnessed it firsthand with USQ and MLQ. When it comes time to go to regionals and nationals, everyone bails. For instance, at USQ West Regionals last year, we got fourth place. Crimson Elite were offered an at large bid.
But when we polled the team, ¾ of the team said no.
Barcelos: Yeah, that’s frustrated me as well. As a member of a team that was competing with you guys for at large bid and lost to you twice, it was insulting to see a team play games only when it’s relatively local and easy but not put the work into travelling. (I had the same problem when San Francisco faced the hardest Salt Lake City roster two years in a row in MLQ only to see a small roster leave Utah.)
Editor’s note: For more information about SF vs. SLC rosters, feel free to check out almost everything Liz wrote/recorded in the past year. She brings it up now and then.
Shields I’m actually glad you can see that. Me and Ray were talking about this quite extensively. USQ is an eight month season. It’s so disappointing to put in all that time, all that travel, and all that money, and then you team doesn’t want to bother to go unless they’re super competitive. I just can’t wrap my head around that. If you’re going to commit to something, stick to it.
Barcelos: But Crimson didn’t really have a full season last year. You played in the fall, at regionals, and then that was it.
Shields No. It fell off after Snow Cup. Did we have any practices, Ray?
Taylor: I don’t think so, no. That’s another thing with commitment in Utah. We can’t afford indoor facilities to practice in. Once the snow falls, we do not practice for months. From late November to February or even March, we’re rarely if at all practicing.
So when we get to regionals and we’re facing Arizona and California teams that have been practicing all winter because they don’t get snow, we had to depend on our veterans and their skill because we didn’t get to practice. We have to rely on going to the gym, which is obviously important, but not enough.
The initial Crimson roster sported some pretty recognizable names. Photo credit: Lyndi Lewis
Barcelos: It’s may he hard to say now, so it’s okay if you don’t have an answer, but what do you guys think the future of the Crimson program is right now?
This situation is so sad to me because this is one of the most storied franchises in the West, if not the whole sport. The 2011-2012 Crimson Fliers merc team with players like Sarah Kneiling, Mollie Lensing, Becca DuPont, Eric Andres, and Brad Armentor and more people who definitely did not live in Utah are the reason we have rules about team transfers. Crimson has been representing the West at World Cup and nationals since 2011. That’s not something I want to see just fade away.
I know Snow Cup is still happening, and that’s pretty entwined with Crimson Quidditch, but what comes next?
Shields Yep, Snow Cup is on me this year. I’ve already secured the facility and all that. I’m a little worried, but Snow Cup has a big enough reputation as an event that it will be okay.
But after that third day of Crimson tryouts we had, we were frustrated. We love quidditch, we’re passionate about it. Losing our community team or our biggest tournament is something I’d hate to see in Utah.
It’s also not just us. Other teams are struggling, too. We had two teams drop from Crimson Cup because they just could not make it, whether they didn’t have enough people for their roster or enough nonmale players, or even just not having enough people willing to travel.
Crimson players, including beater Zac Cunius and chaser Gina Allyn are no strangers to playing in the snow, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Photo taken at Snow Cup III. Photo credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
Taylor: I’d also like to echo that on that last day of tryouts, Katie and I were feeling really defeated. Then, and I’m just gonna be real, word got back to us that players who had been on Crimson Elite that were now on Raptors were talking shit about Crimson Elite. Like, revelling that we were failing?
(When reached for comment, a Raptors player who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that there were players who switched teams because of issues with Crimson Elite leadership, but elaborated that these issues spanned back to the time of the Crimson Elite/Fliers split and the Fliers transition into the Raptors university team.)
First of all, if what we heard was true, I hope that anyone has a problem with me or me and Katie’s leadership would please say so to our faces. Second, why would anyone be happy that the only community team in the whole state failing? Just because you had a problem with leadership?
I feel like a lot of blame has fallen on me and Katie. Like, we feel like we’re letting Utah quidditch fail. But at the same time, we’re going to do as much as we can, even unofficially this year. But Crimson Elite’s future may depend on how established the University of Utah’s quidditch team becomes and how many players continue after graduation. I know they have a lot of young players, so it may be a few years before Crimson Elite resurfaces as an official team.
Barcelos: That is disappointing to hear. As someone who experienced both sides of the divide, I think that the college/community split has been an overall good thing for quidditch. I feel like this situation is part of the growing pains that come with that transition.
Anyway, do you guys have any final thoughts?
Shields Honestly, my hope that Crimson Elite is around for awhile. I think it’s going to be a few rebuilding years, but I do hope that we get to the point that we get graduates from the university team.
Quidditch, to me… the community is just incredible. There’s a lot to be gained from being a part of it. This is my childhood dream that I get to play as an adult. I think that’s why it hurts my heart so much that Crimson Elite is struggling this year. We’re going to be unofficial and that was not an easy decision for us. I know me and Ray cried quite a few times over it.
But I really feel hope that the split pays off and that Utah quidditch can figure it out. I honestly don’t know what the future looks like, but I hope that Crimson Elite has a place in it.
Crimson quidditch earned their place in quidditch history. Only time will tell if they have space to keep writing their story in the future. Photo credit: Archive of UCLA Quidditch
Taylor: I would also say that I don’t know what the future of Crimson Elite is specifically, but I am super excited for the University of Utah team based on the roster we’ve seen and the fact that they have a practice squad. I hope they can retain those players and that the those players eventually help Crimson Elite return to official status and just help grow Utah quidditch in general.
Shields We actually reached out to the practice squad, and some of them will be mercing with us at Crimson Cup. So it will be exciting to help new players get experience.
It’s never good for the sport to see teams fall off the map. It’s one thing for a team to disappear only for another one to take its place, which seems to happen every year, but when a quidditch void gets left behind, it never seems to be filled again.
Riverside and USC Quidditch are some lost West college teams that come to mind, but Crimson’s circumstances here reminded me of the Santa Barbara Blacktips, another West team that drew heavily but not entirely from a college population. The middle ground between college and community is all but gone. The Funky Quaffles, a community team that has always drawn heavily from Cal State Long Beach, are the only team left in that gray area.
Now, Salt Lake City isn’t Santa Barbara. There’s still a team there. It’s not just a college town and the Raptors are likely to pick up on hosting events if Crimson does join teams like Riverside, USC, Santa Barbara, and the Moorpark Marauders (how’s that for a throwback?) in the history of West quidditch. There will still be quidditch in Salt Lake City, even if it’s in only one division instead of two.
Starting a new team is hard, and with the core of the new and improved Raptors being relatively young, Crimson Quidditch may not able to afford to wait for a graduation wave to save them.
Now, it’s easy to say that money, time, and geography are all cheap excuses. Git gud, if you cared enough those things wouldn’t be an issue, etc., etc. While there’s some truth to that, those excuses keep coming up for a reason and it’s important to document them. It’s also important to note that just like most of the commentary surrounding changes in quidditch, this is just one side of the story.
Whether or not Crimson survives past this season isn’t clear yet, but one thing isn’t: every year, there are quidditch teams that disappear without any fanfare. Call this a sounding of the alarm instead.