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Mills College students revive badminton club

Badminton club founder Lauren Kong practicse with a raichet and birdie, badminton's version of a ball, provided by APER. (Bonnie Horgos)

Just as the Mills badminton club began their first practice on Sept. 22 in Haas Pavilion gym, five basketball players strolled in, ready to start their own separate match.

“They want to play basketball, so we have only one net set up,” said badminton club founder Lauren Kong, pointing out the badminton match’s crammed half of the gym. “Normally it isn’t so crowded.”

Badminton, which originated in mid-18th century British India, has had intermittent popularity at Mills. With clubs and classes sprinkled throughout the past 10 years, badminton players have come and go. The current club revived by students has dusted off the rackets, aiming for a weekly club.

But first the club had to find a practice space.

Basketball hoops automatically descended from the ceiling, the sound of bouncing balls echoing through the cyclone home base.

Three people stood on either side of the five-foot net, a rare occurrence in the racket sport that has up to two players on each side. Regardless, the athletes held their rackets, ready to hit the bright yellow birdie between each other as a basketball game ensued next to them.

If anyone can deal with less than a little elbow room, though, it’s a badminton player.

“Anyone can play this sport,” Kong, a 20-year-old sophomore, said. “There’s no strenuous running or anything like that; it’s in a confined space. It’s easy unless you’re playing someone really good.”

But the history of badminton at Mills hasn’t been easy; this isn’t the first time students have bat the birdie.

Themy Adachi, Director of Physical Education and Recreation, taught a badminton class over 10 years ago. Adachi said the class ended around the time she became director in 2000.

“Basically I became a director and I didn’t have time to teach it anymore,” Adachi said.

Any chance of the class starting up again?

“Right now there’s no one on our staff who would be able to teach it,” Adachi said.

Not that Mills students need a class to initiate a game or two.

Students organized a badminton club around five years ago, an informal weekly get-together where students played the nearly 300-year-old sport. Due to lack of interest, the club petered out around three years ago.

Not that badminton has left the minds of Mills students, though.

“When I first came here, I really liked badminton and I knew a lot of people who liked to play it,” Kong said. “There was equipment already here from the old club. That was really helpful. I didn’t have to go online to find good-quality rackets or birdies; it was all already here.”

Badminton goes beyond offering athletic variety, however. For Maria Epstein, 21, joining the club is a way of returning to the junior’s rallying roots.

“I’ve played badminton since I was little,” the Berkeley native said. “It’s been five years since I’ve played. All of my friends are really good, so it’s embarrassing to play with them.”

Regardless of rustiness, Epstein said it was refreshing to stand beside the net once more.

“I like how it’s not a really physical or contact sport,” Epstein said. “I couldn’t play soccer or basketball because I’d be afraid to hurt someone.”

And although the chances of badminton becoming a contact sport were increased with a concurrent basketball game, the badminton club isn’t ready to be the underdog just yet.