Most days, the Bristol Community Center thumps with the beat of Zumba or fitness classes or basketball or other mainstream activities. Other times it hums and grunts with the sounds of yoga or alternative forms of exercise.
But on Tuesday nights, it quiets down and welcomes the tiny zip and whizz of a lone “birdie” flying around the gym. On those nights, a small, fun-loving group of folks gather to renew rivalries in the smallest sports “league” around.
The Bristol badminton league has a steady group of four or five participants, and it’s desperate for more.
“We’re down to basically four people,” said league organizer and co-founder Michelle Mascena. “We need to find people or we’re going to have to stop.”
Most people recall badminton as an awkward activity from middle school gym class, or an occasional diversion at family cookouts.
Tom Hanson, father of three boys, remembers spirited matches in the back yard. “With three boys, it got pretty competitive,” he said.
When he heard about the new badminton league from Ms. Mascena eight or nine years ago, he signed up and has been coming ever since. At their zenith, they had about 16 active players. But out-of-town moves, injuries and job changes have whittled the group down to just a handful.
They would gladly welcome new members.
“I’ve just always loved badminton and wanted to play,” Ms. Mascena said. While a student at Barrington Middle School (many moons ago), Ms. Mascena joined a badminton team organized by the school’s gym teacher. They competed in a state tournament and won it.
Ms. Mascena played volleyball in college but always came back to badminton whenever possible. She played in a league run out of St. Andrew’s school for a time, before that folded. Eventually she started the Bristol program.
Both Ms. Mascena and Mr. Hanson say badminton is great exercise, especially for adults who want to be in a competitive environment without the physical toll of many team activities. “I played a lot of basketball,” said Mr. Hanson, “but there were a lot of flagrant fouls, and it got more difficult to run up and down the court … Badminton is great exercise. My doctor likes to hear that I’m getting an additional two hours of exercise each week.”
Their badminton sales pitch goes further.
“Socially, it’s a lot of fun. You get to know everybody,” Mr. Hanson said.
And they say anyone not confident in their skills should not hesitate to try it. “It’s the kind of game where you can generally get better at it, relatively quickly,” Mr. Hanson said.
Ms. Mascena added that she is very willing to teach people, and most players can show improvement within an hour of picking up a raquet and getting minimal training.
The league is intended for adults, but Ms. Mascena said they would welcome teenagers if accompanied by an adult. The program is open to any residents, of Bristol or otherwise. They play Tuesday nights from 7:30 to 9 p.m.