Young players learn skill at Loch Raven Badminton Club

While others are busy planning the summer parties where the sport is most commonly planned, members of the Loch Raven Badminton Club spend their Friday nights playing a much more skilled version of the game that's routinely dismissed as a leisurely summer party game.

"Most Americans think of badminton as a backyard barbeque game," Ed Smith, 78 of Lutherville, said. "We still have fun, but we're a little more serious than that."

Well, maybe more than a little.

The Loch Raven Badminton Club, which meets four times each week at the Northeast Regional Recreation Center on Oakleigh Road, certainly plays a different level of badminton than you'd find at a family picnic.

Members play on eight regulation-sized courts, with barrel-chested young men and brittle but skilled older women playing fast-paced, competitive badminton. But while adults make up most of their membership, the club is family-oriented, allowing children to pick up a sport that will last them a lifetime.

At the adult play session on Friday, July 29, the children were relegated to the sidelines, hitting amongst themselves while the grown-ups played on the main courts.

But at the family play session the next morning, the children were the center of attention, playing beside the adults on the club's roll-out courts.

Charles Zhang, 11 of White Marsh, and Ari Wu, 12 of Lutherville, played on one court with abandon, sacrificing finesse and shot-making for sheer power.

Charles joined the club in 2008 at the urging of his mother, and said the sport is a good way to get exercise. He and Ari played beside older family members,

To be sure, the adults playing on the surrounding courts influence them. They give Elliot Strahan, 10 of Towson, something to strive for.

"I want to be as good as they are," he said, motioning over to the court beside where he and another boy were taking lessons.

Elliot began playing in his backyard in the summer of 2008. His mother, Kelly Hom, looked on the internet for an outlet that would allow him to pursue his passion and learn the game, which led her to the Loch Raven club that he has attended ever since.

Since then, Elliot has taken lessons with club president Richard Shingles and improved every facet of his game. Shingles puts the children through drills that work on their different strokes from each part of the court, as well as ones that work on their finesse shots. One drill that takes particular skill required the players to hit backhand shots into an equipment bag just under the net—a feat Elliot achieved several times.

And his practice has paid off. At the Maryland Junior Open in April, he placed fourth in his age group in singles and second in the doubles bracket.

Charles and Elliot both hope to play for their high schools when the time comes, a carrot dangling in the future of all the young players at the club.

Our club helps the quality of the high school play locally," Smith said. " We have really good people here, and that's how young people learn."

Baltimore County is one of the few areas in the country that offers badminton as a high school sport. Some players, such as Steven Iringan, 16 of Baltimore and Nurit Kedir, 15 of Perry Hall, have been using the club to prepare for the upcoming high school season.

Nurit played Friday with Amanda Hallock, 17 of Pikesville, who has played at Garrison Forest since seventh grade and began with the club this summer. Nurit, who will try out for her high school team in a few weeks, just recently began playing and said the game is "harder than it looks."

"You run a lot if you're playing singles," she said.

Hallock's high school season isn't until the spring, but now that she's found the club, badminton has become an even bigger part of her life.

"I love it," Haddock said. "It's my favorite part of the day."

Smith, who has been with the club for 35 years and playing organized badminton for much longer, has seen the club grow from its modest beginnings.

"There were far fewer people and lower skill levels back then," Smith said.

Along with the creation of their website six years ago, the move to the Northeast Regional Recreation Center has been a boon for membership. Since moving to their new location, Shingles said the club immediately added 55 members.

The move also gave the club a much-needed bit of continuity. After decades at Loch Raven High School, construction forced the club to pack up its rackets and become a wandering tribe of sorts.

Shingles said they spent two months at Baltimore Lutheran School, two months at Towson High School, and seven months at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills before they found their new home.

But regardless of where the club plays, the club affords its members an inexpensive way to exercise their passion for the sport.

"It's great for the youngsters," Smith said, "and the oldsters like me."

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