Harvard Leader of the Week

For this week’s Leader of the Week, we spoke with the captains of the Harvard Quidditch team, Zac Bathen ’17 and Cassie Lowell ’17. Zac is a Computer Science concentrator in Kirkland, and Cassie is an Engineering Sciences concentrator in Leverett. The Quidditch team, named the Harvard Horntails, was founded in 2009, and the team competes on a national level as well as at the Quidditch World Cup.

The Harvard Horntails compete at Quidditch World Cup XIII in South Carolina. Photo credit Nikki Smith.

The Harvard Horntails compete at Quidditch World Cup XIII in South Carolina. Photo credit Nikki Smith.

Why did you get involved with the Quidditch team?

Cassie: I originally heard about Quidditch back in fall 2010 (my sophomore year in high school), when a friend sent me an article about Quidditch World Cup IV. As a Harry Potter fan and lover of alternative sports, I was overjoyed to see one of my favorite books coming to life, and was glued to the online live stream of the tournament. A few months later and I was starting a club at my high school and volunteering at tournaments hosted by the nearby universities. The second I learned Harvard had a solidly competitive Quidditch team, I never looked back.

Zac: It was my Freshman Activities Fair. I was walking aimlessly as one does when one is a freshman, and suddenly I was facing a large person holding a broom between their legs and carrying a volleyball. It seemed ridiculous enough for me to try, so I went to a couple of practices and loved the game and the people playing it so much that I decided I couldn’t not stay.

How has leading the team changed how you think about and attack challenges and leadership in the school community?

Cassie: Leadership is often a joint effort, and that certainly holds true for how we operate the Harvard Horntails. Tag-teaming tasks as co-captains makes it really easy to tackle so many elements of running a team, from strategizing actual gameplay to general operational logistics. Working alongside Zac is really amazing—he often considers new angles or approaches that I’d have otherwise missed, and I’ve grown a lot from seeing new perspectives.

Zac: As Cassie said, communication and cooperation are absolutely key. There is so much to do all the time, and in order to get it all done you really have to establish trust with the other leaders in the organization. If Cassie says that she will take care of something, I know that I can trust her and that I can move on and focus on the next set of tasks.

What’s a challenge you have overcome as captain?

Cassie: Since Quidditch is such a new game in the grand scheme of established sports, things are constantly changing. New teams pop up all the time, rules are constantly being rewritten, and novel strategies seem to evolve on an almost monthly basis. I think we do a good job staying adaptable.

Zac: We try as hard as possible to make the team accessible to everyone, regardless of financial background, athletic background, and nerd-dom background. This is wonderful, and I think it is a big part of what the makes the team members so great, but it does require that practices and strategy meetings and things need to be relevant for people of a variety of experience levels. In addition, we do not charge dues. Players pay for their own jerseys and US Quidditch memberships, but as much as possible, the rest of our funding comes from grants. This means that travel has to be planned far in advance and we have to really shop around. Moving a team of people around the country is not a cheap thing to do.

Who inspires you?

Cassie: I could name a dozen inventors, leaders, or creators here, but since we’re talking about Quidditch anyways, I’ll go with Alex Benepe and Xander Manshel. As college students they rallied up their friends to play their interpretation of Quidditch, but they carefully crafted rulebook 1 and were both major forces in building Quidditch into the game it is today. 10 years later, there are 500+ teams in more than 13 countries and an incredible community surrounding the game. Not only did these two work incredibly hard to get their ideas off of the ground, they were also willing to take a chance on something a little ridiculous—and that’s the kind of spirit the world needs.

Zac: The figures that are most inspirational to me are those who take initiative to do things even when it does not seem necessary. People who have a vision of a better world and despite the existing system, work hard to make it come true. At the risk of heckling from my teammates (they know I talk about this quite a bit), I think a great and modern example of this is Elon Musk. He is really someone who seems to be able to see through existing expectations and just do what he thinks needs to be done despite people telling him that it is impossible.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Cassie: I doubt I’ll “go professional” and become staff for US Quidditch, but I could see myself working in an athletic-related field. My research at various internships and here at Harvard has been mostly based around designing and developing wearable technologies, so working with athletes who will be the end users for these devices feels like a natural progression.

Zac: I don’t know, and I’m sort of proud of that. I am interested in a huge variety of things, and one of my life goals is to try as many of them as I can. 10 years could send me in any number of different directions.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at Harvard?

Cassie: Harvard is a place filled with incredibly talented and wonderful people. You can always learn something from someone else if you just take the time to watch and listen.

Zac: That the world is open. Growing up, I always heard teachers and mentors say to my peers and I that we could do anything if we set our mind to it. I don’t think I ever really believed that until coming here.

Photos courtesy of Zac Bathen and Cassie Lowell.

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