YOU DIDN'T hear about this here, OK? But if you think badminton - something more competitive than the summertime, backyard variety - might be your sport but that Howard County doesn't offer any opportunities to play at that level, there actually is a place to play.
It's in Columbia - has been since 1972, says Columbia Badminton Club founder David Gardner, an Oakland Mills village resident who still plays regularly.
It has been in the same place, Harper's Choice Middle School, since 1974 or 1975, says Gardner. He used tape to put down lines for three courts in the school gym, and school maintenance people made them permanent with paint a few years later.
Competition, all doubles, occurs on Monday nights between 8 and 10 whenever school's in session. Unless you're a national-caliber player, regulars say, you'll probably find someone who can approximate your skills.
But unless you've been diligent on the Internet in recent years, you might not have noticed the club.
That's because the club never has been much for publicity, in the words of Gardner and Ellicott City resident Jin Chung, the current coordinator. Not that the club shuns the media; it just doesn't solicit coverage.
That, both say, is because more players probably would mean less playing time for regulars.
"It's a delicate balance," Chung says. "With more people, we'd have to find more courts, but that's hard to do because they're so difficult to arrange through the schools."
As it was, Chung got to play only one match Monday night over a two-hour club session. A few more players than usual for recent months showed up, courtesy of a new thing for the club: advance registration through the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, which means higher costs that have regulars grumbling. Rec and parks requires liability insurance, and that has translated to added expense.
Rec administration resulted in a teaser to pull in new participants in the department's winter sports brochure.
Gardner says the small club has never counted more than about 30 members.
Monday night's session drew, give or take, 26 players, all but four male, ranging in age from 65 to the teens.
Players with greater skills seemed able to pair up for matches of two games, 11-point maximum for each vs. the usual 15 points to conserve time and spread court time around. Only a couple of players seemed to be rank beginners.
Several players were tuning up for the annual National Capital Open tournament, to be played at the University of Maryland's North Gym in College Park on Friday through next Sunday. It's perhaps the biggest tournament in this area and will include a Sunday exhibition by "international champion" Tony Gunawan, of Indonesia.
None of the local players is expected to do well in that event, however. The Columbia club doesn't have enough top-quality players to reach the top ranks regionally. Gardner and Rick Wiker, a Sykesville resident and president of the Catonsville Badminton Club for 25 years, agree that such players reside mainly in the Washington area.
Most are originally from Asia, where, like table tennis, badminton is a top-shelf sport. The game, according to USA Badminton, the sport's governing body in this country, has roots that stretch back 2,000 years to ancient Greece, India and China.
Today, the name badminton is English - named for a house in England where the sport was played in the 19th century. Badminton was once a rage in America, played by many movie stars of the 1930s.
USA Badminton estimates that about 300,000 people play at least weekly in this country.
Want to play here? Call rec and parks, then check out the Columbia session. Just don't tell anyone you read about it in the paper.
Along the sidelines
Soccer: We misspelled Rob Bindel's surname in a recent column. Apologies to the Polly Carlan Award winner for the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County.
We're looking for interesting people to write about, anyone involved in any amateur sport in this county. Call the writer at 410-332-6525, or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com.