The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Smashing success: Students find community in growing club sport

Quentin Blais
Founder and coach Pizza Bharali warms up for the DePaul Club Badminton’s practice Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Ray Meyer Fitness Center.

It’s 3:10 p.m. on the third floor of the Ray Meyer Fitness Center and a handful of DePaul students congregate around a pile of lean, egg-shaped rackets for the commencement of DePaul Badminton Club’s Thursday practice.

“They’re always fashionably late,” club president and DePaul junior Yadira Eck said. “They start flocking in after a little bit.”

Just 15 minutes later, a dozen students divided among three badminton courts trade shots as another dozen club members lined the back wall, waiting for a game to finish so they could jump in.

“Every quarter we see the club growing,” Pizza Bharali, the club’s founder and coach said.

Bharali, a former doubles national champion in her home country of India, founded the club at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year and has seen it steadily grow since its inception.

From my experience joining members for a quick match, the seemingly docile sport of badminton is instead deeply nuanced, with players in constant movement. The small court demands close attention to detail and precise execution, and players employ a number of shot types to place the shuttlecock (also called the shuttle or birdie, a small, cone-shaped projectile) out of their opponent’s reach.

“It can be pretty aggressive on your body,” said vice president and DePaul junior Dina Faroha, but she believes game strategy is the most important part of badminton. “You don’t have to be the most athletic person, but if you’re a smart player, you can still win. You have to learn who you’re playing against and what their weaknesses are.”

When she came to DePaul, Bharali was looking for a way to continue playing, so when a club or team wasn’t available, she started the club. Early on, she noticed that many other students were looking for the same opportunity.

“They were searching for places to play badminton,” Bharali said. “We went for scrimmages because we were still trying to figure out the tournaments. Then we figured out about the tournament last year and went.”

Badminton club president Yadira Eck executes a forehand shot in a match during the club’s practice at the Ray Meyer Fitness Center, Thursday, Jan. 18. (Quentin Blais)

Not only did they compete in the Midwest Collegiate Tournament in October, which took place in Naperville, but they also finished third overall for Division II. Their influence and success span back to a visit from President Robert Manuel last February when he joined the team for practice only six months into their existence, commenting on the club’s Instagram page that it was “a lot of fun and a real lesson in humility.”

Following Bharali’s graduation in December, Eck has taken over as president in the new year, with Bharali joining practices as the coach. Eck has been playing badminton as her primary sport since her freshman year of high school, only learning tennis and table tennis after she had learned badminton. Just a year later, she qualified for the state tournament in doubles as a sophomore, representing Alan B. Shepard High School in Palos Heights, a southwest suburb of Chicago. She says roughly 70-80% of the club’s members also share badminton as their primary sport.

“Most everyone here has played in high school or at academies,” Eck said. “We have some national players here who were trained by professionals.”

Despite the experience most members have with the sport, Eck has seen the number of beginners growing over the past two years, and the club has embraced all levels of experience.

“It’s the fastest racket sport,” Eck said, demonstrating how the greatest players can propel the shuttle up to 200 mph, “but it’s a sport for all levels. It’s one of those sports where it isn’t very hard to grasp the rules and it comes naturally. Anyone can fall in love with it just like I have.”

Eck and DePaul Club Badminton are using Inspire DePaul — the university’s platform for crowdfunding through charitable donations from faculty, students and alumni — to raise money for their rapidly expanding group. The club has big plans, including a trip to Philadelphia March 30-31 to play in the Eastern Collegiate Playoffs, which they qualified for after their third-place finish in October.

“[Crowdfunding] helps give our members indescribable experiences with tournaments, scrimmages, meeting new people and continuing to play the sport they love on different levels,” Eck said. “Despite where they came from, where they currently live, their major, gender, orientation, everyone is here to play for the love of the sport.”

The passion for badminton radiates through the courts as dozens of players get lost in the game, forgetting their long day of classes and studying for just a moment. The sense of community is stronger than ever, and the team dreams of their own March Madness: a chance to represent DePaul in the Eastern Collegiate Playoffs.

The club has a $2,500 goal for their Inspire DePaul page. Information about the club’s purpose, goals and donation page is available here.

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