Known to many as the sport with the most ridiculously named ball — the “shuttlecock” or alternatively “the birdie” — badminton has existed at Berkeley High School (BHS) for a long time. The sport of badminton is a racket game played by hitting the aforementioned shuttlecock — a corklike object with plastic feathers that make a cone shape on one side — over a tall net with the goal of it hitting the ground on your opponent’s side or having them hit it out of bounds. The game is incredibly technical and fast moving; in fact, the birdie has been recorded as the fastest moving object in professional sports (disregarding riflery and archery). It is incredibly popular around the world, especially in Asian countries. In China, it is the number one played sport. Badminton, like many racket sports, includes both singles and doubles play.
Berkeley International High School (BIHS) student Jackie Dai described doubles as “a dance where you have to coordinate and learn each other’s movements,” and singles as “relying on your own strength.” One area of the world in which the sport is not so popular is the United States, where you’ll often find it played on the beach instead of an indoor court. However, according to the coach of the BHS Badminton Team, Kyle Hayden, it is actually a terrible beach sport because the wind radically affects how the shuttlecock flies. He has no guesses as to why this became a thing. Hayden, a 2014 BHS alumnus, started playing badminton when he was on the BHS team, and after seeing the team struggle to find adequate coaching, he took over.
Badminton at BHS takes two different forms: the class and the team. The BHS Badminton Team is a club, and requires tryouts, while the badminton class is offered as PE. While players between the two often overlap, Hayden explained that the coaching on the team is very different, as the class coaches are general PE teachers who don’t have as much expertise or time to really help students master the sport. The class is more laid back and is an easy way to gain PE credits, while the team is more competitive and participates in tournaments during their season. According to Hayden, BHS has historically not done great at tournaments due to poor coaching and a fluctuating pool of players, but all was going up last year. Two years ago, the team had lost every single one of their games, but last year they were going strong, winning two of their first three games.Then COVID-19 hit, and as with everything, things fell apart.
The BHS badminton courts are located in the Jacket Gym, where nets can be assembled to form eight separate badminton courts to use during practice. Almost all high schools in the Bay Area have their courts in a preexisting gym, due to the need to have them indoors and the relative unpopularity of the sport. The BHS courts are actually a few inches below regulation size, which can make playing a bit confusing for those used to different courts. The crown jewel of badminton courts in the East Bay are in Emeryville, at the Eastbay Badminton Association, where students from Piedmont High School get to play and BHS players can practice in the summer. Due to its indoor nature, COVID-19 regulations have hindered badminton playing because Alameda County badminton courts are currently shut down. There are tentative plans to begin practicing as a team later this year, but it is unclear if there will be competitions, or a potential cap on team size. For anyone interested in learning more about badminton or trying out for the team, check out the Berkeley High Athletics website.