Pickup games open to all in the world’s fastest sport, badminton, have begun to be played again on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 9 at the Amagansett School, and will be through May.
Dick Baker, a spry septuagenarian who three years ago, as a rookie in the 70-to-74-year-old men’s singles badminton division, placed fifth in the nation in that age group, is overseeing them, as he has for the past 41 years, and would like to have more players of high school age give it a try.
The school’s gym, enlarged following a fire that in the mid-1970s destroyed the tiny old one, can fit three courts. “Doubles is fast and fun — it’s a matter of hitting down and making the other team hit up, as in pickleball,” Baker said at The Star the other day.
“Smashes are a big part of doubles, there’s a lot of power in doubles, though drop shots are also good. In singles, a physically exhausting cat-and-mouse game, you’re trying to hit the four corners — the two short corners being every bit as important as the deep ones. There’s not so much smashing in singles — you’re trying to get your opponent to hit a weak out-of-position return that you can put away. In doubles, the server covers the front and the back player covers everything else.”
Badminton, he continued, was “the second or third most-popular sport in the world. They play it in Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and in a smattering of other countries. Denmark and England have very good players. The former women’s world champion is from Spain.”
A 1966 East Hampton High School graduate and East Hampton Hall of Famer, Baker began playing badminton when he was a physical education major in college, and continued to do so, with Jim Brooks — and later with Chris Tracey, Mike Ruddy, and Rich Dunphy — after coming to Amagansett soon after graduation.
“Paul Newman played with us once. He had played in college and was very competitive. He was 70 or 71 at the time and was teaching Jim Naughton, who had played baseball at St. John’s. They were going to play in a tournament somewhere. Mike Ruddy may have been the best player we’ve had . . . no, actually the best player we’ve had was a 5-foot-2 au pair from Denmark. She was 19 or 20 and beat everybody without breaking a sweat. That must have been in the ’80s. . . .”
“Pat McCarrick, a nationally ranked player who coached at Miller Place for years, started a team there after she got tired of traveling to Connecticut three nights a week and on weekends to play. In two years, Miller Place was by far the best badminton team on Long Island. They didn’t lose a match in over 32 years. It’s a Guinness World Record, you could look it up, the longest winning streak in high school sports. I had her come out here once with the team to give an exhibition.”
Speaking of which, Baker said he is ready and willing to put on an exhibition at East Hampton High School if any interest is shown. The club’s best players at the moment include Dani Dunphy (an East Hampton High School graduate who, with Gillian Neubert, made it to the state girls doubles tennis semifinal round in 2012), Serge Ristivojevic, and Ryan Frankel, all teaching pros at the East Hampton Tennis Club, and Shane Donahue.