Students and teachers know they’re in badminton country when they enter the Lake Washington High gym.
Part of one wall is adorned with a mammoth sign that’s emblazoned with the messages, “I (heart) Badminton” and the Kangs’ motto, “Shake Your Birdie.”
Around the gym on Monday afternoon, Kang girls swung their racquets at birdies and cheered for and tossed jokes at each other. Over at Juanita the same day, Rebel girls were doing similar things in preparing for KingCo competition that will take place in March and April. The 15-team league is split into two divisions named after badminton shots: Smash and Drop Shot.
The players truly mean business.
“Usually when I tell people I play badminton, they’re like, ‘Oh, what’s that? It’s kind of like a lame sport — you just hit a birdie back and forth.’ But it’s really intense and can be really difficult,” said Juanita senior Shaina Ellis.
Another Juanita senior, Sydney Leach, called badminton a unique sport.
“I’ve been actually playing since I was 2 or 3 with my family. A lot of people don’t really know a lot about the sport, and so it’s really cool to get to show them this fun sport,” she said.
Girls badminton has been on the Lake Washington School District’s sports docket for five years — giving the girls another sport to fill out the list — and eventually merged into the KingCo league with the other squads.
Programs sport varsity and junior varsity squads, but LW head coach Ashton Griffen holds ranking tournaments each week to decide where players land on the lineups.
Competitions pit six singles players and five doubles teams against each other in knocking the birdie over the net to score points.
“There’s girls out there in the league who are really competitive. They’ve been playing since they were 6 years old and they’re very very good, to players that have just picked up a racquet for the first time and they’re just playing for fun,” said Juanita head coach Peter Cheng, who played tennis in high school and picked up on badminton during college intramurals.
Cheng has been involved in the Juanita program from the start: three years as head coach and two years as assistant coach. He was the badminton club adviser for a couple of years as well.
Cheng said that badminton professionals smash the birdie up to speeds of 200 mph — high school girls in the KingCo league wail away at the birdie in the 60-100 mph range, he noted.
Griffen grew up playing backyard badminton and took up coaching five years ago at LW as an assistant to head coach Chris Moe. It’s Griffen’s fourth year as head coach and she likes what she sees on the court each year.
“I’ve learned that it’s intensely competitive — a lot more competitive than I would have originally thought. It attracts really awesome young women. It’s been a really cool experience to watch kids that don’t usually get to be a part of a team, join a team and be a part of it,” she said.
For LW senior Patil Clark, she enjoys playing and interacting with her teammates.
“Even if you lose a competition, it’s still really fun to just go out here and play with your friends. Or just even rally — no matter what you do, the sport’s fun,” she said.
Four-year LW player Erin Glynn got into the sport while playing it in gym class.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I really love this.’ I just love getting out here and just running around the court and just have fun,” the senior said. “I’ve had instances where I got so emotional. You definitely want to win for your school and for yourself.”
It was a move from the basketball court to the badminton realm for LW senior Waleria Jones, who sustained a knee injury during hoops action.
“It’s always nice to try something new,” she said. “I just love the environment, just being around everyone. Everyone’s so positive: we cheer each other on, (it’s) just a great team to be on.”