Coach Hoa Tran of San Francisco International High School loves the sport of badminton so much that he volunteers his time to work in a school with no gym.
“One thing about this school is we have lots of heart,” said Tran. “Kids are really enthusiastic about doing stuff.”
Formerly home to an elementary school, San Francisco International is now a high school for new immigrant students. In its fourth year, it has an enrollment of 350 students from many countries, including China, Russia and nations in Latin America and the Middle East.
With a diverse student body comes a diverse athletics program. Last year the school’s badminton team of seven boys and seven girls competed for the first time with other high schools in the league.
The team achieved third place in boys’ singles and doubles in the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation tournament. This year Tran plans to add more players to the roster to give students more opportunity to practice.
Tran works for Apple and began his journey with SF International by volunteering as a computer technician. Last year, when students requested a badminton team, SF International’s athletics director, Jose Urista, asked Tran if he was interested in coaching. Tran, who plays badminton recreationally in South San Francisco and Millbrae, gladly accepted.
“The response has been great,” Urista said. “The badminton team is having fun, but it’s a growing experience.”
Tran coaches Mondays and Tuesdays on his days off from Apple, and changes his work schedule to accommodate game days.
Competitive badminton is played indoors, but SF International has no gym. Without an official court, students often practice outside, and sometimes resort to hitting the birdie back and forth in the halls on the second floor, which has a low ceiling. A few days a week they practice at the Boys and Girls Club but are limited to one-hour sessions. Tran is searching for a gym that his team can use, and is willing to give badminton workshops to the community in exchange for practice space.
“We do what we can. The whole idea is kids can participate in some kind of sport and, in a team environment, get used to teamwork,” he said.
Because the team is required to practice on an official badminton court, Tran takes his students to match locations early, to practice before and after games. “Other schools have a bit of an advantage because they have a gym,” he said.
Urista said in an email that he may contact San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department about potential practice space for the team.
Although similar to tennis, badminton is its own game, played at a much faster speed. Players use rackets to hit a shuttlecock or birdie — a cone-shaped, feathered projectile — over a net; a rally ends when the shuttlecock hits the floor. With a history that dates back to 18th-century British-ruled India, badminton became an Olympic sport in 1992 and is wildly popular in Asia.
“It is much faster than a tennis ball, so a lot of times, it’s the memory muscle that comes into play,” said Tran. “If you play every day the reflex becomes automatic. But if you don’t play enough, that is when you play slow and miss a hit.”
Qiwen Huang, a junior from China who played last season, says she learned how to play badminton from her parents back home. “Badminton is a good exercise. It can help you be cooperative with other people and get know each other,” Huang said.
Two new incoming players, Sai Bathal from India and Anas Belloozi from Morocco, have high spirits about playing their first season with SF International.
“I will bring a lot of medals,” said Bathal, a sophomore who has been playing the sport for eight years.
Belloozi, a junior, has been playing for just two months but already is developing the talent and confidence of his more seasoned teammate. “This year, we are going to be champions,” he said.
Along with muscle memory, Tran says, badminton requires focus and intensity. He tries to teach his players “to hit [the birdie] back with a purpose; to put [it] in a place, and not just hit back.”