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Lutherville man funnels passion for badminton into new club

Steven Page, a Towson University and Towson High graduate, has started the Carver Community Badminton program, as part of the Towsontowne Recreation Council.

When it comes to establishing a new badminton program in Towson, Steven Page is a one-man whirlwind.

The Towson High grad is doing it all to ensure that his brainchild, the Carver Community Badminton program, continues to grow in its infancy as part of the Towsontowne Recreation Council.

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And that means Page has already done a great deal of real work in building a new program featuring the sport he loves and played in high school and college at Towson University.

"It is a indoor badminton club where we play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout most of the year, including summer," the Lutherville resident said about the program, which is held at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson.

Page said that he is driven to provide an opportunity for Towson-area residents to discover the joys of the sport played on a 20-foot wide, 44-foot long court featuring players using long-handled racquets to hit a shuttlecock, or "birdie," over a 5-foot net spanning the center of the court.

The sport was originally popularized by retired British military officers, who brought the game back to the United Kingdom from India in the mid-19th century.

"I am passionate about the sport of badminton, which is why I am volunteering my time to create and grow this badminton club," he said.

"The goal is to get a lot more people to play the sport. It's a fantastic activity for kids, families, adults, everybody and it's also very inexpensive. Carver Community Badminton is for you, whether you want to play competitively, get coaching, just have fun, or meet new friends."

Like many badminton aficionados in the area, Page used to belong to the Loch Raven Badminton Club, which boasts a dozen courts, change rooms, 170 adult members and 80 junior members.

That's a far cry from the 30 people currently playing for the fledgling Carver club, although that's not a surprising number for a start-up.

The Loch Raven club convenes at the old Perring Racquet Club, now called theNortheast Regional Recreation Center onOakleigh Road in Parkville. Although that's not far from Towson, Carver is centrally located in the heart of the county seat.

"I think it [Carver] is a great spot that fits in with our mission," Page said.

Moreover, Page said that both programs can live on their own merits.

"I'm not trying to compete with Loch Raven," he said. "I'm just trying to provide the community with affordable recreation."

Contrary to its image as a game played only at backyard barbecues, badminton requires a certain amount of effort, ingenuity and hand-eye coordination to become a top player.

Page coaches younger players to give "effort, effort, effort. You have to go get the shuttle. Don't wait for it to come to you."

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Page adds that the sport is what you make of it.

"It's a difficult sport to play well," he said about badminton, which has been an Olympic sport since 1993. "But it's easy to start. It's more forgiving, because, unlike tennis, you don't have to chase balls all over the place. And it's a much smaller court, about a quarter the size of a tennis court. But you still end up running more than you do in tennis."

Mihir Bhuta, one of the former Loch Raven Badminton Club members who migrated to Towson with Page, said that footwork is a key on the court.

"Basically it's like dancing," the Towson resident, 52, said. "You have to get the steps down."

Lutherville's Rathan Subramaniam, 47, is another ex-Loch Raven player who has embraced the new club.

"I knew Steven from Loch Raven," said theassociate professor of radiology and radiological science at Johns Hopkins Medical School. "I brought my whole family with me. We all play here."

The youngest of his three daughters, Santhiya, 10, was holding her own on a recent Friday evening in a doubles match with Page while competing against her dad and Ashley Himelfarb, 28, a biology teacher at Lansdowne High School, who travels from Reisterstown weekly to play.

Rathan Subramaniam said that he has been playing the sport since he was a boy in Sri Lanka and competed all the way through the University of Melbourne in Australia and later, in New Zealand.

It's not like badminton is a completely foreign concept to local residents, given that public high schools in Baltimore county and city and private schools in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland offer the sport at the varsity level.

Himelfarb was a Baltimore County singles champion while a student at Franklin High School before continuing to play badminton at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia. The all-women's school boast one of only two collegiate programs outside of California, where 14 schools feature badminton.

Himelfarb has good reasons for continuing to play.

"You get a total cardio workout," she said. "It's like going to the gym, but so much more fun."

Himelfarb and Trang Nguyen, 28, like the wide open spaces of the gleaming new Carver gym.

"Other places we've been are so crowded," Himelfarb said. "Here you can always get a court."

Still, Page would like the courts to be a little more crowded.

"My goal is to have a total of 75 participants," Page said. "Say 51 as members and 24 involved in coaching. With those numbers, the club would certainly be sustainable."

And having a viable option for badminton enthusiasts who prefer to stay closer to their homes in Towson can only aid the sport's growth in the area.

"The more the better," said Jeff Miller, the Loch Raven Badminton Club president. "A lot of people will choose to be members of more than one club. And we pretty much have a full membership anyway."

Miller's club has existed — at three different sites — for 60 years, so there's no reason for it to be greatly affected by a new club springing up nearby.

"There's no problem," Miller said. "We can accommodate 50 people on 12 courts at a time. The sport seems to be growing all the time."

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