The air buzzed with excitement during the 8th grade elective time at Hawfields Middle School on May 29, 2014. There were to be no regular lessons - two Olympians were waiting as the students assembled in the school gym, and it wasn't the first time. The visit of 27-time national titlist Nicole Grether of Germany and her doubles partner, Canadian gold medalist Charmaine Reid, marked the third time that Olympic badminton players have visited Hawfields, thanks to the school's thriving badminton program.
Headed by Health and PE teacher Lisa Ward and her husband, Paul Knechtel, the program includes a popular after-school club, which hosts annual tournaments; as well as lots of badminton instruction during students' regular physical education classes.
The club expands on the principles taught in class, with its members, many of whom had never played badminton until it was taught in PE, quickly progressing from fundamentals like serving and net shots to more advanced technique and footwork. The group’s members have also formed a unique bond through their hours of good fun and hard work.
Assistant principal Matt Haley, a former physical education teacher who helped to start the club, said on the topic of its origins, “We were looking for different ways for students to be involved.”
“The kids asked to be able to play more,” Ward commented. With kids asking for more badminton, the program expanded, and, in 2004, Hawfields had its first visit by a “badminton celebrity”. Three-time Olympian Kevin Han visited the school and talked with each PE class, discussing not only badminton, but also the importance of education.
Education and goal-setting was also the theme of the 2006 visit of world champions Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan. While talking and playing badminton with students, Bach and Gunawan “showed them what they were doing in PE was something they could pursue.”
Thanks to Hawfields’ great badminton program, six Olympic athletes have now visited the school since 2004. “I wonder how many other middle schools in North Carolina could say that,” remarked Ward.
Having such an active badminton program has exposed students to a great sport that many of them have never experienced in this way before, overcoming the cliché of “backyard badminton” to create an excitement for the game. “I think having all these players come in has really caused badminton to be a popular sport at school,” concluded Ward. I couldn't agree more.
Written by 8th grader and Hawfields Badminton Club player Kellie Thomas