Keep SUA Weird pt. 2: Mr. Hacker and Josie Ruther
I published the first part of the “Keep SUA Weird” series in February. Remember February? Parasite, Little Women, and Star Wars were still in theatres. “Senorita” and “Yummy” were charting. I was still 15 years old (how naive I was!) and none of us were prepared for the global pandemic that was going to shut down in-person learning for the rest of the year. Suffice it to say, these are weird times. Gosh, if had a dollar for every time someone told me that the present social climate is “weird” or “crazy,” I’d have enough money for a semester of college! But in a stretch of time that is decidedly bad-weird, it becomes even more important to celebrate the good-weird. So, although I’ve been thinking about ‘rona-related article topics, I’ve chosen instead to publish these interviews, which were held last year - when “weird” meant beekeeping and college Quidditch, not a global pandemic.
Even though our last winter pep rally feels like decades ago, I’m sure that many SUA students remember the game of Quidditch that served as the epic finale. For those who don’t remember or didn’t attend SUA at the time, the pep rally was Harry Potter-themed - each grade level wore the color of a different Hogwarts House, the GAA board danced through a dry ice fog, and there was an epic flute solo, along with “floating” candles and fun games! Quidditch, the most popular sport in the world of Harry Potter, was the last event of the day. It was a legendary battle that pitted a team of students against select members of the faculty, but there was one true MVP: Mr. Hacker.
Mr. Hacker’s Quidditch origin story starts in the English building at Case Western Reserve University. He had no prior experience with the sport, but when a random girl approached him and asked him to join the school’s team, he knew it had to be fate. “I didn't realize how much I projected Harry Potter nerd to the world,” the English teacher jokes, “but she wasn't wrong!” Quidditch can best be described as soccer, but not quite. The scoring is different for one, but there are also four kinds of players. Mr. Hacker was a Chaser (equivalent to soccer’s “offense” position), whose objective is to throw a ball through one of the opponents’ hoops (which are guarded by the Keeper - a role similar to the goalie). The Beaters (similar to “defense”) try to prevent the Chasers from scoring points, while the Seeker (the only role completely unique to Quidditch) attempts to find the Golden Snitch, which is the only move that will end the game. Case Western’s Quidditch team, CWRUcio - a pun on a spell from the series - was a ragtag group initially. Because the sport was mostly casual fun, the team had no uniforms, mascots, or cheers. Mr. Hacker describes the team as more like “pick-up basketball” than an official league. Today, the team has uniforms, along with a website where they announce fundraisers and huge events.
In fact, Quidditch has become a phenomenon all over the country! There’s now a US Quidditch Association, a college championship, official rulebooks, and trained referees - “everything like you’d see with football or basketball,” Mr. Hacker says. The Quidditch finals are a kind of pilgrimage for the most hardcore Harry Potter fans, often coinciding with music festivals dedicated to Wizard Rock (a genre of music inspired by the popular franchise).
Mr. Hacker’s training paid off. Led by the English teacher, the faculty snagged a win after a hard fight against Mischief Managed. Among the vanquished girls was Josie Ruther, the subject of my next interview.
Josie Ruther ‘22 makes friends with bees. I watch her during the 20-minute break as she reaches into a flowering bush behind East, clicking her tongue the same way one might call a cat. I constantly ask her questions: do they like being pet? What species is that? Which ones sting? She answers excitedly and tells me that we should bring some honey to school; the fuzzy insects will eat it right out of our hands!
Most kids are afraid of bees. Josie, who got involved with the practice of beekeeping while attending Mercy Montessori, was intrigued by their “bee team” program, which was brand-new at the time. She helped build Mercy’s beekeeping group from scratch - researching which products to buy, setting rules and schedules, and learning all she could. Now she’s an intern for the Queen City Pollinator Project and has worked with bees and their relatives at the Cincinnati Zoo. She tells me that there are many different forms that beekeeping can take. Industrial honey farming is often bad for the bees, who are transported by truck and fed sugar water instead of honey. More hobby-oriented beekeepers tend to take better care of their hives. They can be found at farmers markets and some independent grocery stores, where the honey is labelled with the exact location of the farmer, along with the type of flower the honey comes from. Good local honey naturally crystalizes over time, forming a gritty, sweet “candy” along the edges, but this can easily be remedied by setting the jar in some hot water to gently warm the substance and melt the crystals.
When I asked Josie what she’d like readers of The Light to know about her hobby, she had an immediate answer: bees and their relatives (wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets) always have a valid reason to sting, even if it isn’t apparent right away. They’re a little bit like dogs - they don’t attack unless they feel truly threatened and are harmless most of the time. Josie tells me that they’re very protective of their hives, and will normally only sting if their hive is nearby. In fact, the bees at SUA aren’t very close to their hive (she thinks some of them are even travelling from Mercy) and are therefore quite tolerant and friendly. She talks to them in a voice normally reserved for babies or puppies, coaxing them onto her outstretched finger.
Near the end of August, Josie and I found a dead bumblebee, belly-up on the concrete behind East. She guessed that it had encountered some kind of pesticide. I scooped up the insect and buried it under the flowering bush, feeling somber and a little silly. We stood over the makeshift grave; I jokingly asked if she wanted to say a few words. Neither of us could really think of anything to say, but her care for the tiny creature was palpable and I felt it too.
In the interview, she describes a hive as a “superorganism.” Because I have a vague idea of the meaning, I Google it. Google kindly informs me that a superorganism is “an organized society that functions as an organic whole” (Merriam-Webster). I like this definition, and I’m drawn to the idea that beehives are like microcosms of our own communities. We each serve a role, but we’re all different. We defend what we love. We build our lives around the common good, and we’re all valuable for it. It’s noble, almost - being a part of the team, a protector of the hive.