High school badminton has its own version of March Madness

Amidst the basketball “Madness of March” that begins this week in full regalia, a different version of “March Madness” appears this time of year.

It’s called tryouts for the spring high school badminton season. A different kind of “madness”.

Sounds pretty tame? What could be so turbulent about the nice, quiet game of badminton?

“Oh yeah, it can get a little crazy,” says Tiffany Kim, Glenbrook North’s head badminton coach. “Twelve courts at a time during auditions and we have 30, sometimes even 40, 50 or even 60 girls trying out for the team.”

Birdies fly, players talk, blow whistles, rotate places, girls communicate, echoes in the gym. All of this is part of the unique craziness that accompanies the badminton test matches each year.

“The madness of the march”, indeed. And that’s just for choosing the team!

For all those readers who giggle at badminton as a sport and consider it just a backyard recreational game, please read on. Believe it or not, girls badminton has one of the highest numbers trying out of any sport in the entire school, including all three seasons. This applies to both GBN and GBS.

With all these challenges and distractions and so many girls to choose from, how does a coach actually choose who gets on the team?

“It’s not easy,” says Kelli Nitihara, Glenbrook South’s sophomore head coach. “First, we’ll probably have to do auditions at 6 a.m. because the basketball team is still playing, which presents some unique challenges. Secondly, we look for attitude, coaching ability, potential and ability to play doubles in players because every player — by rule — has to play doubles in competition.”


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

“Also,” adds Nitihara, “we don’t overemphasize the score in the tryouts, but rather more technique, strategy and skill.”

Both Nitihara from the South and Kim from the North are graduates of the school they teach at

Kim, who also coaches the girls’ volleyball team, has been the head coach for nine years and played on Glenbrook North’s badminton teams during her Spartan years.

Counterpart Nitihara graduated from South in 2009, where she played four years of volleyball, one year of basketball, and three years of badminton for the Titans and missed a year with a cruciate ligament tear. Nitihara managed to play doubles in her junior year. She was an assistant coach under longtime head coach Terri Kimura before taking the reins.

I personally like to see that. It’s always great to see some of our ex-athletes becoming coaches again at the same school and program they once played in.

Kim and the Glenbrook North squad will have plenty of struggles this year to position who plays where and in what spots in singles and doubles. But one place that’s out of the question is #1 singles.

The Spartans have returned one of the state’s best players in Jade Huang and she will no doubt pose another threat to make it to the state and a likely contender for the medal tally.

Glenbrook South, on the other hand, doesn’t have one superstar, but the team is blessed with a great depth of talent, led by seniors Leah Dessercih and Kara Yoo and junior Justine Liu.

Both teams will start their season in a couple of weeks after some intense practice and training sessions.

Now let’s turn to the skeptics out there. The backyard weekend enthusiasts who play the game in their free time and believe that everyone can play badminton. are you still reading this I hope.

Actually, you would be right in a way. Anyone can play this game – but not at the high intensity required to succeed in competitive high school badminton, where it’s a whole different story.

Here the elite badminton players must combine speed, agility, strength, flexibility, endurance, excellent hand-eye coordination and, of course, quick reactions. The birdie comes at you with remarkable speed, and with the short distances between players on the small courses, super-fast reflexes and reactions are a must.

While most of us who play the backyard game simply aim to get the yardie over the net and into the opponent’s field, the sophistication of the game is so much higher at the high school level. Girls need to master shots like the serve, the lift (think lob), net shots, block shots, drop shots, the clear (high and low) and of course the always powerful and crowd-loving smash.

That’s at least seven different skills that they must each master on both the forehand and backhand sides.

The skill and mental aspect of the high school game has increased dramatically over the last few years here in the suburbs.

“There are a few clubs in the north-west suburbs that some of the kids play at, which really helps with their development,” says GBN coach Kim.

GBS’ Nitihara adds: “We hosted a badminton summer camp here last summer and had quite a few visitors so we’re hoping that helps.”

Both teams will no doubt be operational in a couple of weeks.

But first…those tryouts and all the madness of 12 courses running all at once.

• Jon Cohn, from Glenview, is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and fan of preparatory sports. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email jcsportsandtees@aol.com.

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