A thwaping sound fills the gym as racket after racket propels a small, white object over the net. On the intermediate court at the far end of the room, the players move with speed and agility, their shoes squeaking against the floor as they race to hit hard-to-reach serves.
One player serves, gently hitting the shuttlecock, or birdie as it’s more commonly called, over the net. It soars through the air, and the girl on the other side jumps up to reach it, waiting for it to fall before hitting it over the net and out of reach of her opponents.
Many of these students attend practice almost daily, spending hours in the Phillips Hall gym practicing badminton.
The badminton club’s practice times are open gyms, so members come whenever they can and play with whoever else is there.
The courts are split between beginner and intermediate levels. They play doubles or singles, depending on how many people are there that evening.
Those in the badminton club mainly just compete against each other, but they have one or two out-of-town tournaments a year against the five or so universities in the state that have teams. Usually whichever of the intermediate-level players are free will attend the tournaments.
It’s not about winning or losing, though, said former president and senior Jianghao Liao.
“It’s about your interest, and it’s about the environment,” he said. “We all join together for badminton for fun.”
Usually around 20-30 people come to each practice, almost all of whom are international students.
Badminton is a popular sport in China. Liao said that while many American children grow up playing football in their backyard or basketball in the driveway, badminton is usually the sport of choice for children in China.
It’s simple to learn and doesn’t require much equipment — just a net, rackets and a shuttlecock. It can be set up anywhere and doesn’t require an official court.
Liao also said since there are more people in China, the middle and high school sports teams are more competitive, making casual play with friends or in a club more common.
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The badminton club offers a place for these students to practice a sport that’s familiar in a place far from home.
“In classes, at the first place, it’s not really a comfortable zone for me, so after classes I can go to ... someplace around Chinese people,” said senior Samuel Wang, a member of the club. “It’s really helpful, so I don’t need to have mental issues like in someplace I don’t know very much.”
Many of these students have become close friends. Although the group is mainly made up of international students, two domestic students come regularly.
Senior Nico Erazo joined the team his sophomore year because he enjoyed playing badminton in P.E. class in high school.
“Sometimes it can feel like the Chinese students are kind of playing their own game, and I’m just kind of spectating, but I feel like being there for as long as I have and knowing everybody, there’s still a large degree of acceptance,” Erazo said. “We greet each other and laugh and have a good time.”
He encourages anyone interested to come try out the club.
“Don’t let a different group of people discourage you from — not even just the badminton club — any club,” Erazo said. “It was kind of intimidating to start with … It’s a group of people that, while they might not approach you to bring you into their fold, they’re still by and large welcoming … If you want to play, you’ll stick around, and if you stick around you’ll get to know everybody.”