• U.S.

Sport: Badminton’s Rebirth

6 minute read

Badminton, modern version of the ancient game of battledore & shuttlecock, takes its name from the county seat of the Duke of Beaufort. Legend says it started there in 1873 when the guests at a dinner party stuck goose quills in champagne corks, began batting them across the table.

For the next 25 years, badminton led a double life. In England it enjoyed a mild vogue as a socialite amusement for which the proper uniform was evening dress. In garrisons and officers’ clubs in India where it was called poona, badminton was played more violently, took firmer root. Badminton’s renaissance in England started soon after the War. In the U. S., where socialites had been playing dignified badminton for years, strenuous badminton did not put in an appearance until about ten years ago. About 1931, badminton began to boom. Currently it is the fastest growing game in the U. S. Last week in Chicago, the cream of the U. S. crop of 40,000 badminton addicts played the first national championship tournament.

Tradition, and the fact that the only requirements for a court are a flat surface and plenty of headroom, make armories the appropriate place for badminton. Last week’s tournament was held in that of the Naval Reserve. Before the tournament started, officials debated whether or not to accept the entry of Hock Sim Ong, Malay post-graduate student at the University of California who learned badminton when he went to Cambridge on a British Government scholarship. Before it was over, four other contestants had good cause to wish the officials had rejected it because Hock Sim Ong had beaten them with discouraging ease. In the final, with a socialite crowd of 5.000 seated around the court, Hock Sim Ong’s opponent was tall, 24-year-old Walter Kramer of the Detroit Badminton Club, rated by professionals as the ablest U. S. amateur for the last two years. The first game went to Kramer, 15-10. In the second Sim Ong got a lead of 4-1, then apparently forgot all he knew about the game while his opponent ran out 14 points in a row for match & title. Prettiest girl player in the tournament, slim, brunette Mrs. Del Barkhuff of Seattle, was also the most proficient. Using a skyrocket serve that sometimes nearly hit the roof, she won the women’s singles championship, 11-4, ni, against Mrs. Ray Bergman, then paired with Hamilton Law and with Zoe Smith to share both doubles titles. Men’s doubles winners were Chester Goss & Don Eversoll of Los Angeles.

What Walter Kramer got for winning the men’s badminton championship last week was a silver cup, named for New York socialites Bayard Clarke and E. Langdon Wilks who were the original U. S. badminton pioneers in 1878. Unlike England’s “Grand Old Man” of badminton, Sir George Thomas, whose achievement of winning 78 national badminton titles in the British Isles from 1903 to 1928 is rivaled only by his position as England’s best chess player, they did not contribute much to the game’s later triumph. Badminton’s current status on the U. S. scene is largely a tribute to the power of the cinema.

About four years ago, a Boston badminton professional named George F. (“Jess”) Willard visited Hollywood. Cinemagnates, always on the lookout for new fads, showed only less enthusiasm for learning the game than for telling the rest of the world all about what they had learned. Three years ago, Warner Brothers released a one-reel short called Good Badminton. Last year the firm of Fanchon & Marco hired Jess Willard to play exhibition matches in movie houses. Current rumor is that Walt Disney will produce a badminton cartoon in which Mickey Mouse will oppose Donald Duck. In Hollywood, badminton is not only handy as a sport and reducing exercise but also as an excuse for new poses by actresses like Sonja Henie, Glenda Farrell, Joan Crawford, Anita Louise, Simone Simon (see cuts, p. 35). In addition to novelty, badminton has over tennis the advantage that, since the game consists largely of scrambling, the posture of the subject does not, like that of almost any actress photographed with a tennis racquet, reveal that she does not know much about the game. Able male Hollywood badminton addicts are Pat O’Brien, Warren William, Lyle Talbot, Robert Montgomery. In Hollywood, the virtues of badminton, like many other things, have been exaggerated.

Most Hollywood badminton photographs exhibit it as an outdoor game. Actually, Hollywood is one of the few places where the vogue of badminton has taken root outdoors. Even there it belongs under cover, since the slightest breeze makes a badminton “bird” behave unpredictably. To offset this defect, Douglas Fairbanks has invented his own form of the game, with heavier bats and birds. Fairbanks badminton is named “Doug.”

Once launched by Hollywood, badminton broke out all over the U. S. in patches. From Canada, which currently has about 25 of the world’s best 30 singles players, including Professional Jack Purcell who two years ago beat Hollywood’s Willard for the “world’s championship,” the game spread quickly to Detroit, Chicago, Seattle. Badminton literature began when Squash-Badminton appeared in 1934, grew when American Lawn Tennis added a badminton section last autumn, came of age last week when the national championships made badminton in daily papers jump from the society to the sports pages. Average badminton bat weighs 5 oz. to a tennis racquet’s 13½ oz. Birds, still patterned after the Duke of Beaufort’s champagne corks, weigh 80 grains. Best birds and bats are imported. Birds are made of fine-grained Spanish cork, covered with French kid, dressed in feathers from Czechoslovakian geese, whose high grease content makes their quills less breakable. Three birds, four bats, tapes, a net, and a place to put them are full badminton equipment. With the net stretched 5 ft. high, across a court 44 by 20 ft., procedure and purposes are similar to tennis except that every shot must be a volley. Scoring is like squash. When the momentum given it by the racquet is spent the bird does not drop like a ball but parachutes to the floor. Hence, retrieving is the most important part of the game and badminton, much easier to learn than tennis, is more taxing to play.

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