Bringing the birdie to Wilson: Badminton club in the works

Ethan Leifman

Anybody who has ever taken a gym class with physical education teacher Desmond Dunham knows that he loves badminton. Few have ever seen someone actually play competitively against Dunham, but I was fortunate enough to witness the rare feat: sophomore Ruichen Wang managed to score a few points in a high-stakes contest with Dunham. Wang, who learned to play badminton in his native country of China, is one of the first members of Wilson’s badminton club, founded by sophomores Maddy Kessler and Liza Willsey.

Kessler and Willsey have participated in soccer, track, lacrosse, and basketball at Wilson, so they are no strangers to Wilson athletics. However, they felt like they had been “slept on” by their athletic activities at the school, and wanted “a chance to shine.”

Kessler was introduced to badminton mostly through Wilson, while Willsey was largely influenced by her mother, who played during high school. The two feel that badminton is “an overlooked sport in society,” and are aiming to start a “badminton revolution” to propel the sport to the level of popularity in countries such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, where the sport is considered elite and taken very seriously.

However, at Wilson, Kessler and Willsey have a goal of explicitly making the sport non-elitist and open to everyone. “What matters here is dedication,” Kessler said. At their first interest meeting, there were roughly fifteen people, excluding Kessler and Willsey. Though almost all of the students interested were sophomores who are friends of Kessler and Willsey (many from other Wilson sports), the two are keen on diversifying the club, and hope to attract incoming freshmen. Many of the club’s members were introduced to the sport through Dunham’s badminton unit.

Kessler and Willsey approached their chemistry teacher William Gomaa about sponsoring the club, and though he initially had reservations about sponsoring a club he knew little about, he eventually agreed. “I will certainly be cheering them on from afar even if I’m not right next to the courts when they play,” said Gomaa, who played recreationally in college.

Wilson Athletics Director Mitch Gore said that Kessler and Willsey had not approached him about having a badminton club yet, but said he would give them his support. Gore noted that it’s pretty easy to start a sports club at Wilson because all you need is an adult sponsor. However, it’s much harder to make a varsity DCIAA sport, which requires lots of coordinating with other schools.

Currently, no DCPS schools have a badminton club, but the DC area has 26 badminton clubs and associations. The club members hope to stick to a casual game schedule with most games being amongst themselves. However, they do hope to play Montgomery Blair High School in the near future.

The badminton club holds practices Wednesdays at STEP in the Rose Garden.