It seems fitting that a school often likened to Hogwarts for its appearance would be the venue for a lesson in witchcraft and wizardry.
On a sunny July day, around 30 eager kids made their way to the fields of Back Campus at the University of Toronto to learn how to play Quidditch.
In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the sport is played while soaring through the air on flying broomsticks. But it’s been adapted for mere Muggles (non-magical people) and there’s even a U of T Quidditch team called the Centaurs.
Two of those team members were tasked with training the kids – all participants in University of Toronto’s summer camp – Camp U of T.
“I am a huge Harry Potter fan so I’ve been looking forward to it since I found out we were going to do it this week,” says camper Jessica Filipovich, 13.
If this kind of activity appears unconventional for a summer camp, you’d be right. It’s part of a program within Camp U of T called NOT Sports Camp.
Offered for the first time this year, NOT Sports Camp includes games such as capture the flag, inner tube water polo and dodgeball .
“NOT Sports Camp is an opportunity for a non-traditional camp experience in a sense that we wanted to create a program that did not focus on the traditional sports,” says Mandy D’Arcy. The manager of children and youth at U of T's Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, she also oversees Camp U of T and Junior Blues programming throughout the year.
“We really wanted to reach those children who were not necessarily interested in traditional athletics or being sporty… but really just wanted to play games and have fun,” she says.“I think we’re really successful in a sense that it’s sold out, it’s been really popular and the kids really seem to enjoy it.”
This spirit of inclusivity is the foundation of Camp U of T, which prides itself on celebrating and accepting people’s differences.
“That can open some eyes,” says D’Arcy.
Kids from all over Toronto, Canada and the world are attracted to Camp U of T’s positive environment and the university’s global reputation, she says – with campers coming from as far as China to spend a week on campus.
Next week, seven Syrian refugees will be attending Camp U of T – with three more subsidized spots available to newcomers.
D’Arcy says that after going through terrible trauma, the campers’ biggest challenge will be learning how to be kids again. “So for them, the camp is a great experience, a great opportunity.”
But for all kids, the chance to go to camp can be life-changing, she adds.
“Their experience having been in a week of camp really can make a difference for them. Making a lot of friends, having fun, obviously and being exposed to something they’ve never been exposed to.”
Many campers enjoy their time at Camp U of T so much, they go on to become counsellors and sometimes faculty, she says.
For camp counsellor and fourth-year neuroscience student Lauren Sudac, Camp U of T has been a rewarding experience.
“I love the interaction with the kids and the smiles we can put on their faces, even with simple games or as complex games as Quidditch,” she says. It’s her first summer working at the camp.
Watching the campers play Quidditch, it was clear they were having a blast as they whizzed across the field on their makeshift broomsticks.
“It was really, really fun,” Filipovich says. “If I ever go to U of T maybe I’ll try out for the team.”
For 13-year-old Noah Friedman, it was an exciting way to see the magical game come to life in the real world.
“It was really interesting ‘cause I read the books and understand the rules in the books and so it was really cool to see how people have turned it into something you can actually do,” he says.