Of birdies and wickets

June 1, 2005, midnight | By John Silberholz | 15 years, 7 months ago

Her arm blurred by the speed of her stroke, sophomore Helen Chen sends a birdie rocketing over the net as freshman Billy Huang responds with ease, whipping his arm around and sending it back with equally vicious speed. Moments after the end of eighth period, the action is already intense at Badminton Club in the auxiliary gym, one of several Blair groups that feature sports that are far from mainstream in America.

However, the numbers are against badminton emerging as a popular sport at Blair. According to a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association poll, less than one half of one percent of Americans play badminton regularly throughout the year. Equally improbable would be the emergence of a cricket club at Blair, since less than 15,000 Americans are registered players of this sport. Nonetheless, dozens of Blazers play cricket and badminton after school every week. While much of the rest of America may pass up badminton for tennis and cricket for baseball, these unique sports provide both fun and instructional after-school activities for dozens of Blazers.

A deeper respect

Blair's unique sports groups often face misconceptions about the legitimacy of the activities. "A lot of people don't admit that [badminton] is a sport because of how they've played it in gym class," says Chen, founder of Blair's Badminton Club. "It's actually really different if you watch it played by experienced players. A couple [of] people came to the club not believing anything about badminton as a sport, but left with a much deeper respect of the game."

Certainly freshman Gavin La, who has played with the Badminton club since its first meeting a couple of months ago, sees little difference between the sport and more mainstream recreations. "Badminton is a real sport," he says. "I've definitely come to accept it as legitimate."

The competitive edge

Blair's top badminton players' competitiveness provide the best proof of badminton's legitimacy as a sport. At most of the nets, the birdies fly high and slow, rarely making five round trips before striking the net or the floor. But at one net, the birdie is slammed back and forth with dizzying speed and precision.

It is here that some of the best birdie-bashers at Blair show off their talent. Chen, who participates in a local badminton club and competes nationally, contorts her body to slice the birdie across the court, where Huang slaps a tough shot towards the left sideline. However, junior Rohit Dewan runs halfway across the court and cleans up with a vicious slam that speeds to the floor at the feet of his opponents. The intense volleys elicit a series of "oohs" from the small crowd that has assembled by the court to watch Blair's finest in their element.

Fun for the boys and girls

In one of the rare minutes when she is not honing her badminton skills, Chen smiles as she explains why she founded the Badminton Club. "I wanted to promote badminton at Blair," she says. "It's a really fun sport that anyone can pick up quickly and enjoy themselves with."

One look around the gym convincingly proves to the enjoyable nature of the sport. At some courts, friendly conversations bounce back and forth as quickly as the flying birdie, while other, more competitive groups focus all of their energy on ensuring a victory in their two-on-two match ups. Groups of friends chat freely along the sideline, waiting for a free court to open up so that they can start a game of their own.

This "fun factor" certainly prevails at the cricket game, as well, where some students like sophomores Alex Hyder and Mihir Narain are discussing the finer points of the game. "No, its more of this motion," Narain laughs, swinging his arm around to demonstrate to Hyder exactly how to bowl the cricket ball. Meanwhile, on the pitch, some players erupt into laughter after a particularly egregious fielding error and subsequent score.

A taste of new cultures

Cricket, a game similar to American baseball, involves "bowling" (instead of pitching) a ball at a "wicket," or group of wooden stumps. At Blair, games are held every Tuesday and Thursday in modest settings - a dozen or so students bowl a tennis ball at a stack of backpacks on the practice fields.

While some students join in cricket games purely to enjoy the sport with their friends, others, like junior Subhash Parachuru, have a completely different reason for playing the sport. "In Hyderabad (a city in southern India), where I grew up, playing cricket was like playing street ball here in America," he explains. "In India, I'd play whenever I had the time, so it's fun to play here, too."

This cultural importance of cricket is enormous, despite the sport's relatively weak reception in American society. Narain emphasizes the impact of cricket on other cultures. "There is no real link you can draw from American sports to cricket," he says. "In America, there are all sorts of sports that split people's attention. In India, there's nothing else. It's all about cricket."

Overseas, cricket even has the potential to bring two feuding nations like India and Pakistan together for the enjoyment of the sport.

Thus, Narain and his friend, sophomore Neil Mendhiratta, have organized cricket games to increase Blair students' exposure to the sport. "We made the club to spread awareness of our sport," explains Narain.

In spite of it all

With the year winding to a close, both the badminton and cricket players have been able to overcome barriers to successfully build acceptance for their sport. "A lot more than expected have showed up at the (Badminton) Club this year," says Chen. "We had about fifty people at our first meeting. We hope to make Badminton Club a lasting organization here at Blair, so that anybody who wants to can get a chance to enjoy the sport."

The cricket players have much further to go to meet their goals, and hope to both be recognized as a club after finding a teacher sponsor and to compete against local cricket teams, including those fielded by Churchill and Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

For now, though, the game at hand is all that counts, as Narain trots onto the field, swinging his arm and excitedly exclaiming, "Let's play some cricket!"

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John Silberholz. The Chips PRODMAN (and editoral board member), John enjoys basketball, tennis and biking, looks forward to yet another year on Chips. Among other things, he enjoys climbing trees (even though he has a weird tendancy of falling off of them), biking like crazy, playing basketball, … More »

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