A few months ago when a correspondent at SoCal Connected approached me about doing a story about badminton, I was like… really? Face squished in bewilderment, I was skeptical. Where do people play badminton in Southern California?

Well, as I quickly learned while helping to produce the piece, there are two places right near my own backyard in the San Gabriel Valley. Our segment highlights two 24-hour badminton clubs in El Monte, CA and looks at how folks take a sport, often thought as backyard recreation, and teach it to a whole new generation of players. For those unfamiliar with Southern California geography and demographics, the San Gabriel Valley is a hub for Asian communities.

It is amazing to think that while you are standing on a court, you are also standing next to the national champions from Korea or China. Women and men who represented their countries, are living here now, and helping to bring a relatively unknown game into the lives of so many young aspiring kids, teens, and even adults.

A Friday night at the Los Angeles Badminton Club in El Monte, CA.
A Friday night at the Los Angeles Badminton Club in El Monte, CA.

Much to my chagrin, I was guilty of the mainstream Western thinking. Badminton? What? Sure we see it on the Olympics every four years and remember it as that odd middle child. Older sister tennis is flashy and over-achieving, while table tennis is the adorable, fun, quirky lil’ sister. Badminton is the Jan Brady of paddle sports – nice but easily forgotten.

Which is saying something about a game that has been around for more than 2000 years, according to the Badminton World Federation.  The origins of the game started in Europe and Asia, and the cultivation of the game in those regions hasn’t slowed down. Today’s top players come primarily from Asian countries like South Korea, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, and European countries like Spain and Denmark.

In the United States, badminton has had a more lackadaisical history, with the majority of its prominence in day-to-day recreational play at YMCAS and such. Even it’s involvement in the Olympics is fairly recent. It was introduced in 1992 as a competitive sport.

Racquet and birdies.
Racquet and birdies.

So what all is involved?  Well, there is a long necked racquet and a birdie, otherwise known as a shuttlecock. I think birdie is pretty accurate, considering the best kinds are made out of goose feathers. Fans of the sport contend the speed of a birdie is faster than any baseball strike or tennis ace. Competitive badminton is always played indoors, on a court, and there are special shoes for the court.  So there you go, racquet, birdie, shoes, court. Good to go.

What does it take for a sport like badminton to catch on in America? The folks we talked to for the segment suggested that what we needed was an American born champion. Someone who can, not only compete, but win on an international scale like at the Olympics.

Standing around those full courts and packed bleachers during our shoot, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the best way to get folks into the sport is to convince them it is simply that, a sport. A sport that requires extreme athleticism, and isn’t just a fun activity at the beach. Instead of going to spin class or playing racquetball, go have a knock out drag out game of badminton on a Friday night. Badminton needs a Tiger Woods or a Serena Williams, but the sport isn’t going to find those stars until people get on the court and get in the game.


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LATA PANDYA | @LataPandya

Lata Pandya is an award-winning TV and radio journalist. Currently she works as a producer on the Los Angeles-based public television news magazine show SoCal Connected. She freelances with several news organizations in the LA Area. Lata holds an undergraduate degree from University of California, Santa Barbara and a graduate degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She is known to be notorious about watching sports  while researching public policy stories. Lata is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.

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