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Fourteen teams participated in the intercollegiate quidditch tournament at Middlebury in Oc tober 2008. (Photo: Brett Simison)

Quidditch campaign hopes to sweep up PR Week award March 5

March 2, 2009

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? The Middlebury College Quidditch Club, under the leadership of senior Alexander Benepe, has been named a finalist in the annual PR Week Awards in the category of promotional event of the year. With more than 850 entries from national and international public relations agencies, the PR Week Awards are one of the industry's most prestigious honors. PR Week is a leading New York City-based trade publication for the public relations industry.

Benepe worked with Middlebury's communications office to submit the award application based on the club's innovative campaign to develop college quidditch clubs on other campuses. In March 2008, working on a shoestring budget, the Middlebury club embarked on a whirlwind spring break tour of eight colleges in eight days, where they organized matches and sponsored clinics. The tour garnered significant national media attention, including a lengthy feature on CBS' "Early Show" as well as on ESPN and MTV, which were then promoted on the college's website.
Sadly, the quidditch team did not take the top honor at the awards ceremony on March 5. However, they came in second against major corporate competitors and received one of just a few honorable mentions given out during the evening. See results here.

Middlebury Vice President for Communications Michael McKenna, Alex Benepe '09 and Alex's father Adrian Benepe '78 at the PR Week awards dinner in New York, March 5.

"Congratulations to Alex and all the members of this group for their achievement," said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. "This story is a great example of the kind of creativity and innovation we have come to expect from our students."

Middlebury College Vice President for Communications Michael McKenna notes, "It's virtually unheard of for a student group to be represented at this level in the PR industry. Alex recognized early on that this new sport would live or die by its promotion. The club has done a terrific job with new media such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as traditional major media outlets like newspapers and network television. It's been a great story to share with the Middlebury community"

In 2005, Benepe and fellow Middlebury student Alexander Manshel invented the earthbound version of the sport made famous in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. They built a devoted following on the Middlebury campus, then produced an official rulebook, which they distributed on a Facebook group they named the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association. The group has grown to more than 3,000 members from nearly 200 colleges and universities.

Following the spring tour's success and publicity, the Middlebury club hosted 14 colleges and universities at its Intercollegiate Quidditch World Cup in October 2008. The event drew a field of competitors from across the nation and Canada, including Princeton, Vassar, University of Rochester, Louisiana State University, University of Washington, McGill University, Amherst College, University of Massachusetts, Boston University Chestnut Hill College, Carlow University, Emerson College, and Green Mountain College.

"When we began this a few years ago, we never imagined how big it would become," said Benepe, who is majoring in art history. "It's been a fun creative challenge to convince people to put on capes, pick up brooms and race up and down a field."

The other finalists in the PR Week award category are four international public relations firms and their large corporate clients including Fleishman-Hillard and Papa John's International; Golin Harris and Nestle USA; Kaplow and Target Stores; and Weber Shandwick and KFC. The awards will be presented on March 5 in New York City.

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