By Kristin Schultz
NISKAYUNA — Leave your lemonade and potato salad at home, because badminton at the Schenectady JCC is no garden-party sport.
“Some professionals can hit the birdie so hard it will crack a watermelon,” said Tracy Chen, a badminton enthusiast.
Twice a week, a dozen or so players converge on the gym at the Schenectady JCC to serve, rally and smash the birdie in an intense two-hour session — so far, no fruit has been harmed. Teams and players rotate in and out of the three courts.
Long seen as a backyard game in the United States, badminton’s history dates to the late 1800s when the duke of Beaufort brought a version of the sport to England from India. The first set of written rules dates to 1877 and, in 1899, the Badminton Federation of England was formed. In 1992 it became an official Olympic sport.
Amit Gore of Glenville played badminton in his youth and then played cricket for a while. Last year, he went back to the badminton court.
“I sweat and get more exercise in 15 minutes than with other sports,” he said. “Tennis is intense but takes a long time. A game of badminton is about 10 to 15 minutes long.”
Similar to tennis, players can take each other on one on one, or partner up for a game of doubles. There are men’s and women’s singles and doubles competitions as well as mixed doubles. A point is scored on each rally and the first person or pair to 21 wins.
Unlike the backyard version, players strike the birdies with force and purpose, usually sending it screaming over the net. In an informal, nonprofessional setting like the JCC, the shuttlecock can travel at speeds between 62 and 155 miles per hour. The fastest recorded birdie was clocked at 306 miles per hour. By comparison, professional tennis players — think Andre Agassi or Roger Federer — hit their groundstrokes at speeds around 75 miles per hour.
The quick pace is not just good exercise, but also good fun.
“It can get really competitive,” said Chen. “But it’s fun and I’ve met great people.”
Chen has also seen the sport’s popularity grow over the past few years, and with that an increasing demand for court space and time. RPI’s gymnasium hosts badminton games and practices and the university has had a badminton club for 20 years. The Guilderland YMCA offers open, pick-up badminton for three hours on Friday nights.
The gym at the Schenectady JCC was originally reserved once a week for players, but with an increasing demand for courts, birdies fly across the net twice a week.
“It’s been a big success,” said program director Andrew Katz. “We will definitely keep it going.”
Local and regional badminton tournaments are held across the area, and Chen says there is talk of trying to find a place to build a dedicated badminton facility in the Capital Region, although nothing firm is in place.