SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury High School has fallen in love with badminton.
While most people get an early start to their weekend, about 140 students gather in the gymnasium every Friday afternoon for the school’s Badminton Club. The group quickly sets up the nets, lugs the large bag of shuttlecocks (also known as birdies) onto the court, gets the rackets ready, and then the fun begins.
Runze Zhang and Taotao Li founded the club two years ago, and the club has grown since. Zhang said that badminton is an attractive sport for many people. Whereas basketball players often need to be tall, and football players must be strong, badminton can be played by anyone.
“The reason why we decided to start this club was because when you look at high school sports – you have football, swimming, tennis, basketball – you have all these sports, but… in badminton, everyone can play. You have people of all different heights, all different backgrounds, all different skill levels. Anyone can have success playing badminton,” Zhang told the Community Advocate.
There were several players at the club’s Sept. 29 meeting who clearly had some previous experience. Yet, just one court over, there were people picking up the badminton racket for the first time. Everyone was supportive, some people even stopping to help others.
Badminton spiked in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, while people were looking for easy-to-learn backyard sports. However, badminton is more than just backyard fun – it’s a community. Zhang first started playing the sport during COVID-19, and quickly found just how helpful the community can be.
“The community is willing to help you. I think that’s actually quite rare in some sports,” he said.
Zhang also relied on the community to start the club. Zhang and Li traveled to local tournaments and collected the damaged shuttlecocks for the club to use; the duo asked neighbors to borrow spare rackets. Ultimately, the club got almost $5,000 worth of equipment from sponsorships and donations from local organizations.
Zhang has tried to bring the badminton community to Shrewsbury. Andy Chong, an Olympic coach who was formerly the world’s 22nd-ranked badminton player, has visited the badminton club. The club hosted free badminton clinics at Oak Middle School – over 25o people registered on the first day.
“It shows how supportive the community is. Andy [Chong], for example, he was willing to hold these clinics without being paid at all. He just wanted to promote badminton. The club has come to realize that badminton is very supportive,” said Zhang.
The clinics were done in cooperation with the Massachusetts Badminton Association.