EDINA (WCCO) — Spring is right around the corner and thoughts of backyard barbecues and all that goes with them are ever-present.
But the next time you invite your buddies over and set up that badminton net, keep these girls in mind.
“It’s way different,” said defending state champ Gao Lee of Highland Park.
“You think it’s a soft, kind of knock-it-around sport,” said Edina coach Steve Henke. “It’s a heart-attack sport, really.”
Worldwide, badminton is more popular than tennis. More popular than volleyball. More popular than all your various net sports.
“People at ESPN have said that it’s the second-most played sport in the world,” Henke said.
And at Edina, it’s booming.
Edina started its varsity team just three years ago.
“We didn’t know if we’d get two girls showing up, or 10, or 15,” says fellow Edina coach Margo Henke. “We certainly didn’t expect 40 the first year. And then we were like, ‘Now what do we do?’”
What they did was branch out, and created one of the area’s most popular tournaments.
“My idea,” Steve Henke said. “You have the end of year state tournament where you see all the greatest players. Why not do this early, right away, so you can get a buzz for the game?”
The entire gym becomes a bracket: Eight matches, all going on at the same time. They play 77 of them at Edina Southview Middle School, and it doesn’t take a month.
Try just four hours.
“It’s impossible to watch them all at once,” Margo Henke said. “Because it goes so quickly.”
“This is a very fast sport,” Steve Henke adds.
But still a rather marginal one in Minnesota. There are only 18 teams state-wide, and only three of those are outside the city schools of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“We’d like to see it grow in the western suburbs,” Steve said. “Hopefully Wayzata, Minnetonka, some of the others could follow. Because it’s a good place for a lot of girls.”
Edina’s coaches say the interest is there. And if Edina’s an indication, barbecues everywhere have been put on notice.
“You know, we see it every four years in the Olympics,” Steve said. “And good athletes can pick up the sport very quickly.”