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Bernalillo Badminton

Bernalillo badminton keeps you on your toes

Badminton, anyone?

Wieland Elstneer founded the Bernalillo Badminton Club in the spring of 2001. The Signpost ran a little story on it. The club has since grown to over twenty members—mostly retired seniors and people with flexible work scedules.

At the time I would have been surprised to know that five years later I would be playing at least once a week at the Bernalillo Recreation Center. Badminton seemed like a silly backyard game played with feathered “birdies” that immediately dampen the speed and power of a shot launched by flimsy rackets that were included in the kit that must have appeared under our Christmas tree some years back.

The fact that I was now eligible for AARP and the Senior Olympics is a joke shared by us baby boomers who think we’ll never grow old. But we will—especially if we don’t keep playing games. Another group of seniors walks in circles around the perimeter of the courts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ll bet if they had started playing badminton at my age, they’d be having a lot more fun now.

Setting pride aside, the game was intriguing enough for me to show up to play occasionally in the wintertime during the club’s first couple of years. It became apparent that a modern birdie struck really hard with a high-tech graphite composite racket did not look silly at all when it was aimed right between your eyes. Wieland could alternate overhead smashes with delicate taps that would barely clear the net. If a player tried to chase down every shot, the game could provide a serious aerobic workout.

Most of the club members are over sixty, and some are over seventy. They seemed to enjoy running me around the court. I began to notice over the years that the attaboys were harder to come by. Players used to just smack the birdie back and forth until somebody committed an unforced error. Those days are gone because now they play smart. The regular players were developing a subtle touch, awesome smashes, strategy, and teamwork. Some were winning tournaments.

The club was starting to attract experienced players like John O'Keeffe and David Hsi. Eighty-three-year-old David started playing about seventy years ago in his native China. Pregame strategy sessions usually include the warning, “Don’t hit it to David!” This is not always possible because he anticipates your shot so well and usually hits it where you are not. (I think there is some kind of Jedi-warrior mind thing going on.)

There is no gender barrier. Hit an easy shot to any of several competitive female players and she will make you pay. After Hanniah Koenigsberg demolished me in singles the other day, she offered the consolation that singles is an entirely different game from our usual doubles, and that she was state champ in her age group.

Not that I care that much about winning (ha! ha!), but some days it’s no fun feeling like a sitting duck. Recently I decided to start playing twice a week when my busy schedule permits. There is just no way to compete at a higher level without practice.

Wieland will be most displeased if I don’t encourage new members to join in the fun. The club is open to all ages and is practically free of charge. Badminton is a tricky game, but the initial steps are easy to learn for anyone who is reasonably athletic. Sure, you will look a little foolish at first, but a few sessions played with determined effort will put most new players on the path of constant improvement—or a least provide a good workout.

The better players have developed intense rivalries and enjoy a competitive game against each other, but they are also patient and helpful when new guys are rotated into the lineup. Wieland is a good teacher, and everybody gets to play.

Even badminton players don’t live forever, so the club will need constant infusions of new talent if I am to have any competition in the over-eighty division.

The Bernalillo Badminton Club meets every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the the Bernalillo Recreation Center in Rotary Park. During the summer, they move over to the gym at Our Lady of Sorrows. For more information, call Gary Hansen, at 867-2829, or e-mail






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