Stories Of Americans Passionately At Play

"Sport, at its best, at its most human, is able to inspire an innocence and joy that is unique to each of us."
~ Richard Corman ~

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Badminton

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The U.S. Badminton Nationals: The Stealth Championship

In April of 2010, author Tim Forbes embarked on a one-year “sports walkabout” that took him across the country to 100 sporting events involving 50 completely different sports. Why? Well, it’s complicated. His journey and ultimate discoveries about the true value of sports were published in the book “It’s Game Time Somewhere” (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2013).

Shuttlecock. Why shuttlecock? It was the very first thing that popped into my head when I discovered that the U.S. Adult National Badminton Championships was just a 45-minute drive from the palatial international headquarters of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour. It occurred to me that if I were trying to gain some respect and grow the visibility of badminton, I might start to think about another name for the game’s key piece of equipment. Immediately feeling guilty about my close-mindedness however, I vowed to: (a) educate myself about the genesis of the shuttlecock, and (b) go witness one or more in flight.

Regarding the former, I discovered that the name for what backyard badminton combatants call a “birdie” stems from the title of the original game – Battledore & Shuttlecock. Best estimates are that the game originated around 2000 years ago in ancient Greece, and well, some habits are just hard to break. Who am I to argue with ancients Greeks?

What I also took away from my research is that badminton is a phenomenon and a lifestyle in countries throughout the Asian Rim, like Indonesia, China, Korea and…Denmark? Wait. How’d that last one get in there?

Anyway, armed with the power that knowledge brings, I headed down to the O.C.—specifically to the Orange County Badminton Club for the final day of competition at the U.S. National Championships.

The atmosphere was casual, to be sure. Admission was free, and there were no banners or visuals of any kind to herald that the best badminton in the country was about to unfold before you. For all the pageantry (or lack thereof), it might as well have been a local club championship. The word “understated” was, well…understated.

The downside to such an unassuming (and did I mention “free”?) environment was a definite lack of fan “user-friendliness.” Information-wise, it was strictly DIY for spectators, but I embraced the challenge and started foraging. Soon enough I came across a cleverly concealed cache of modest event programs which provided…well, not much. Generic to the entire multi-day event, the program lacked inserts or other updates that provided details on that particular day’s competition. No draw, no bracket—just an alphabetic list of competitors.

I approached the gentleman working the club’s counter and asked where I might find information that would help me put order to the sea of swinging rackets. “No problem!” he said cheerfully. “It’s posted on the front door.” Sure enough, upon exiting and re-entering the facility I discovered the event’s Rosetta Stone. Taped to the glass entry door, among the “Roommate Wanted” and “Lost Pet” postings was a single 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper displaying the schedule of events—sort of. In actuality it was simply a list of the order in which the championship match for each class of competition would be played. Another clue, Watson!

I re-entered and checked back in with my source. “So……let’s just say I wanted to see these championship matches,” I began tentatively. “On which court might they be played?” Overmatched by this cagey line of questioning, my source sang like a canary. “Number Eight” he said, again smiling broadly. Aha!

I turned to look at the layout of the venue and immediately realized I had been outsmarted again. None of the courts—all of which were in use by now—bore any identifying numbers. Well played, my wily adversary.

Against all odds, I eventually stumbled upon Court #8, conveniently located at the absolute furthest point of distance from the entrance to the building. It was as if Centre Court at Wimbledon was located at Wembley Stadium. Finally, having unearthed the key to witnessing perhaps the most fan-shy tournament of all time, I settled in with what must have been a dazed look on my face. “First Badminton Nationals?” asked the man sitting next to me. How could he tell?

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