When the average racquet sport enthusiast is asked what the most popular racquet sport played in the world is, the quick response is usually, “tennis, of course.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The correct answer is “badminton.” The number one sport that is played the most throughout the world is soccer. The number two sport is badminton. Most people think of badminton as the backyard game that is easy to play and is a lot of fun, which it is. However, badminton, at the top level in the Olympics, is played at an extremely high level, with the shuttlecock (birdie) traveling at speeds up to 150-200 miles per hour.

Locally, the game is alive and well. Michael Hacker is in charge of badminton at St. Matthews School Gymnasium in North Tonawanda. During the year, play is on Sundays from 1:45-6:30 p.m.

From 1:45-3:30 he and other members work with youngsters at different levels. From 3:30-6:30 it is open for players of all levels. Hacker also runs different groups for youngsters at various other venues.

He started playing badminton in high school with the incomparable Ethel Marshall, a seven-time national women’s badminton champion at the Amherst Middle School and the Amherst Community Center. He continued to play through college and then in England where he worked for a short time. For many years he played tournaments throughout the United States.

Hacker and his wife Cara were playing badminton at the Ken-Ton Community Center about three years ago. Although they greatly enjoyed playing there they started to think about opening their own club.

“Most of the local badminton facilities didn’t allow kids under 21 to play in their program,” Hacker said. “We decided to start a club at St. Matthews with five courts in the gym and this allowed us to implement some junior programs in addition to the adult play.”

The program proved to be so successful that they have as many as six volunteer coaches working with upwards of 35-40 kids, ages 5-17. Some of the students became very proficient and competed in tournaments in Canada. Locally, Hacker holds tournaments for players of all levels and is extremely proud of the fact that he has kids playing in 9, 11, 13, 16, and 19 and under tournaments.

In addition to being an outstanding player, Hacker is a great motivator and instructor.

“I pride myself that I am fortunate that I can motivate players of different skill levels to play the game,” Hacker said.

He encourages the players to play, shows them how to improve, and takes many players to a higher level. The club has been open for more than three years and has had upwards of 300 people playing.

“We always encourage people to play and we only charge $5 for a great time and workout for the 7-9:30 play time,” Hacker said.

He stressed that badminton has competition at every level. You don’t have to worry about the weather as the club has five indoor courts. The game is basically a game of fitness, strategy, and power. Hacker stresses that the combination leads to an outstanding player. However, regardless of your level of play, you are guaranteed a great workout.

As for equipment, racquets sell from $10-$300. Most of the better players use racquets in the $50-$300 range. Shuttlecocks run about $12 for six in a can. Sneakers with gum soles are also recommended as they are lighter in weight and provide better protection for ankles than regular sneakers. The aforementioned equipment can be purchased at JB’s Tennis Shop.

A badminton match consists of two out of three games to 21 points. Points are scored whether you are serving or not. The first person to reach 21 wins. If the score is 20-20 a player must win by two points. However, if the score reaches 29-29 whoever wins the next point wins the game. Whoever wins two games first wins the match.

Singles Strategy: In singles, hitting a deep serve is recommended to keep your opponent in back court. You also want to maintain center court position. When the game is in play you should hit high deep shots in order that you can get to the net to put away overheads. Occasionally, you would be wise to look as if you are going to hit a shot to a certain spot; only to place it elsewhere. The key to good play is cultivating a good wrist snap to enable you to hit the shuttlecock with more power and speed.

Doubles Strategy: Both partners must be ready to cover the court. Usually in doubles one player stands up front near the middle of the net. His partner stands a few feet behind him. Offensive shots are always hit down. Defensive shots are always hit up. The player at the net is always trying to block the shots and keep the rally going. The player in back mixes up smashes and occasional soft shots to keep the opposing team off balance.

Five Reasons to Play Badminton

1. Physical Fitness: The great workout helps to take care of your body and keeps you in great shape.

2. Health Benefits: Playing badminton reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

3. Social Aspects: You will meet a great many wonderful people. Badminton players are very receptive to giving other players suggestions to improve.

4. Speed and Reflexes: Badminton is a fast- paced game. Playing badminton will greatly improve your agility, strength and mental awareness.

5. Fun and Enjoyment: Badminton is very enjoyable. Regardless of your level, you will be very pleased that you have taken up the game.

Mike Hacker has a proposition that is hard to beat. The first time you play at St. Matthews is free.

Hacker will show you how to play. He stresses that players introduce themselves before they play against other players and shake hands whether they win or lose.

“I want everyone to be respectful of each other when they play to promote camaraderie and sportsmanship,” Hacker said.

For further information call Hacker at 418-3112.

Stan is the champ

Last weekend, Smaranda Stan, a former UB tennis great, defeated Carlee Conway, the Catholic School Girls Champion, 6-4, 6-2 in the Muny Women’s Open Singles final.

“I had lost three previous Muny finals that were all close,” Stan said. “That is why winning this title was so meaningful to me.”

Stan is an assistant women’s tennis coach at UB. She relied on great court placement and a wide variety of shots to keep Conway off balance.

“My game plan was to keep the ball in play crosscourt and then to attack down the line when the opportunity presented itself,” Stan said. “My future plans are to become the head women’s coach at UB or some other Division I school. I owe so much of my success to Kathy Twist, a former UB women’s coach, who is my role model and mentor.”

Damian David, UB’s No. 1 player and Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, defeated Lance Vodicka, a teaching pro at Miller Tennis Center, 7-5, 6-3, in the Muny Men’s Open Singles final. It’s the fifth straight year that a UB player has won the men’s title. Vusa Hove won the previous four. Interestingly, David’s two-handed backhand is his best weapon. So much so, that most players play his forehand throughout the match. Additionally, his court coverage and speed afoot are truly remarkable.