Prep Badminton: Mustangs in full swing

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Badminton was reinstated at Gilroy High last year and is undergoing a resurgence at the school.

GILROY—Badminton just might be the best kept secret at Gilroy High, but it appears the secret is finally getting out.
After a two-year hiatus, the Mustang student body circulated a petition asking for badminton to be reinstated. After gathering 500 signatures and convincing coach Steve Jackson, who had semi-retired from the sport in 2002, to take the reigns, badminton returned to Gilroy High last year.
Though Jackson has a wealth of experience behind him as a player as well as on-and-off again coach for 10 years, leading the resurgence of badminton at the school hasn’t been easy, but it has definitely been rewarding.
“Everyone started last year without any experience,” the Mustangs coach said. “This year, our girls who played last year are doing really well—they’re pretty darn successful. Overall, I’m very happy with the progress.”
Gilroy has an arsenal of girls embracing the sport, but pitching it to the boys hasn’t been quite as easy. Since badminton is a coed sport, the Mustangs need 12 boys in order to field a full team. Currently, only five have joined and that’s forced them to forfeit several matches this year.
As a relatively new sport on campus, Jackson said he understands it’ll take some time to gain popularity, but he can’t help but think back to its glory days.
In 2002, Gilroy won a league championship and had around 60 kids banging down the doors to play. Now, Jackson said he’s lucky if he can get a racquet in the hands’ of half that number.
“I used to have too many kids. Now, I don’t have enough,” Jackson said. “We have too small of a team, but the kids that are here are awesome. I’m very impressed.”
Outside of recruiting, one of the biggest challenges has been getting players familiar with the fast paced game. Last year, several of the Mustangs were frustrated that they couldn’t keep up with their opponents. Now, second year players like junior Hannah Sepulveda are able to play the game without thinking.
“We came in and were playing schools with people who had been playing for so long—way longer than we had,” the junior Mustang said. “I’ve gotten faster. Last year, I couldn’t really do smashes and stuff. Now, I’m just getting faster and stronger.”
Sepulveda said she was drawn to the sport after playing it in P.E. class. Unlike other sports, she said it wasn’t as strenuous. Because of that, she said she loves every second she spends out on the badminton court.
“It’s really, really fun. I just loved playing it,” the junior said.
As the sport continues to gain popularity on the GHS campus, more and more students are trying their hand at it.
Illiana Vasquez took up badminton this year after some encouragement from her cousin to do a sport. She said it was easy enough to learn, as there are only a couple of rules, and the fun she has playing with her teammates has kept her coming back.
“It helps me take my anger out,” she said with a laugh. “It’s competitive. You get your game on.”
Jackson believes there’s more sportsmanship in badminton, too. He often witnesses opponents giving his team pointers, instead of the showboating that frequently occurs in other sports, he said.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not competitive.
The Mustangs compete within the team for the No. 1, 2 and 3 singles and doubles spots, and those can change from week to week.
The No. 1 doubles team of Sophia Magana and Jasmine Diego, for instance, began as the No. 2 team last year. Their hard work paid off with the top doubles spot this season. Since Diego is the team’s lone senior, Jackson said he expects the in-team competition to continue heating up for next year’s season.
“In terms of heart and desire, these girls have it,” he said. “From where these kids are last year to now, I’m so happy.”

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