Annual wizard festival brings magic to downtown Kent

The view down Acorn Alley, temporarily renamed “Dragon Alley,” during the fourth annual Wizardly World of Kent Festival on July 27, 2019.

Nathan Mehring

Quidditch matches, costume contests and live performances were enjoyed by magic-lovers from around Ohio in downtown Kent Saturday at the fourth annual Wizardly World of Kent

The game Quidditch, modeled after the sport in the Harry Potter book series, is new to the festival. There were a total of 12 matches that were open to anyone attending the festival and they which were hosted by the major league Quidditch team the Cleveland Riff

Seven Kent State students represented the unofficial Kent State Quidditch team, the Soaring Flashes, in the game. 

“We usually play matches that are around 18 minutes long,” said Harrison Daniel, co-coach of the Kent State team. “Today, these games are about 45 minutes long each.”

The sport is full-contact with no helmets or pads, just headbands and broomsticks with no bristles, said Colton Snyder, the other co-coach of the Kent State team. This means players can tackle each other. 

“You’ll definitely walk away with bruises,” Daniel said.

Two teams, with seven players on the field, pass around multiple balls in an attempt to throw them into one of the three elevated goals on each side. Near the end of the game, a “snitch” appears. It is a gold-colored ball tied to the shorts of a person who is not on either team. Each team then attempts to retrieve the “snitch,” while the person avoids both teams, Snyder said.

The “snitch” is worth 30 points and goals are worth 10. After the “snitch” is caught, the game ends and the team with the most points wins, Snyder said.

“It’s basically a tactical dodgeball with a basketball mentality,” Daniel said.

The matches were played in a makeshift arena set up along N. Water Street. To accommodate the game, the festival was expanded along the street from last year, said Edward Butch, a committee member for the festival. Butch is also Kent State’s Senior Director of Academic Recruitment and Retention for the College of Arts and Sciences.

A few streets over, several costume contests were hosted by the Kent Jaycees throughout the day at Dan Smith Park. The park was called the “Forbidden Forest” for the festival. 

A total of four contests were held, two for children and two for people 13 and older. Each contest had roughly 50 contests and each dressed as different magical characters, most of which were from the Harry Potter series. These were mainly from the Harry Potter series. 

Jade Welch, from Coolville, Ohio, dressed as a phoenix and won the “Best Overall” category of the first competition for teenagers and adults. 

Jordan Eshelman, from Mount Vernon, Ohio, dressed as a student of the Thunderbird House of Ilvermorny, an American-version of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter universe. Eshelman has been a fan of magic since his adolescence.

“I watched the Care Bears and it had a villain that was a spell book.” Eshelman said. “That got me interested in magic. Harry Potter just expanded that interest.”

Another contestant was Mary Halberstadt, dressed as Hogwarts’ “Quidditch” referee Madam Hooch. Some of her family members also dressed as Harry Potter characters and entered in the contest. 

Halberstadt attends many events as Madam Hooch but does not usually enter costume contests. Instead, she usually teaches “flying classes” with children at fairs, festivals and relay races. She teaches them how to “call their brooms” and control them, she said.

“I remember at one event, a child asked if I was really a witch, and I said yes.” Halberstadt said. “We ‘flew together’ for a while and he ran-off to watch the first Harry Potter playing in the other room. He saw my character in the movie and ran back yelling ‘You’re on TV! You have to see it.’ It’s great that kids still have imaginations.”

Contestants paid to enter and the money raised will be donated to the Kent Free Library, said Jillian Tipton, President of the Kent Jaycees.

There were several other attractions such as a live podcast, storytelling and dance performances that people could attend at the Huntington Bank Plaza and Dan Smith Park stages during the event.

Other nonprofits benefited from the wizard festival, either from money raised or awareness through booths set up along the streets. Some of these nonprofits included Children’s Advantage, Akron Children’s Hospital and Kent Junior Mothers, said Heather Malarcik, Executive Director of Main Street Kent.

Main Street Kent hosted the festival, which had a name change last year from Potterfest. This was an attempt to avoid violating copyright laws associated with the Harry Potter franchise. 

Nathan Mehring covers downtown. Contact him at [email protected]