Edina’s badminton program, in just its third season, has nearly doubled its ranks to about 70 players this season, up from about 40 in its first year in 2011.
While the Hornets have literally grown in size, the team is also developing in other ways.
Last month at Edina’s second annual tournament, the Hornets tied for third among a field packed with top teams in the state. Edina’s doubles team of senior captain Eliza Thompson and fellow senior captain Jane Bro won the tournament, beating the same team that knocked them out of the state tournament last year.
“We’re unique in that area that we get so many different kinds of girls — girls who play lots of sports, girls who don’t play a lot of sports,” Thompson said. “We get girls from all different cultures. I think it’s more diverse than a lot of sports that you see.”
Fellow senior Captain Nathalie Manker added, “Especially in Edina.”
The roster has nearly every continent represented, with girls from Uzbekistan, Ecuador, Mexico, Tibet, India, Yemen and several Asian nations.
Coach Steve Henke and his wife, assistant coach and coordinator Margo Henke, agreed to lead the team after their youngest daughter stopped playing tennis and began a Facebook campaign to start a varsity badminton program at the school.
The Henkes had played badminton for fun at their cabin and held an annual tournament before taking on the coaching positions. With backgrounds in advertising, photography and clothing, the two said they knew they could market a team. But they brought in volunteer coaches from Edina’s local badminton club to teach more advanced skills.
Steve Henke said the sport has become so popular so quickly because it attracts a diverse set of girls and helps build self-esteem.
“Seventy girls… in a varsity program? Where were all those girls in Edina? They were in places where they never had a shot [to play sports],” Henke said. “I mean a lot of these girls had nothing else… so we look at it as a real positive thing.”
Freshman Ariana Song, whose parents are from China, said she joined the team for a fun after-school activity. Since badminton combines many different athletic skills like grace, power, strength and agility, she said it is a sport anyone could try.
“It’s really cool that so many different kinds of people do it,” Song said. “Because you would think that only one kind of person does it.”
Freshman Yogini Kaul, whose parents are from India, said badminton is also a sport she can play long after her high school graduation.
“It’s not like hockey or something which you only play when you’re younger.,’’ Kaul said. “And it’s like an international sport.”
Thompson has been on the team since its first year and also plays volleyball. She said badminton has helped her broaden her horizons more than other extracurricular activities.
“I certainly enjoyed getting a chance to know girls form other cultures that I wouldn’t necessarily see in all my classes or especially not in volleyball,” Thompson said.
Manker, nodding to how friendly teammates, coaches and even opponents are, called badminton “probably the nicest sport I’ve ever played.”
The Minnesota State High School League has less than 20 schools registered in girls’ badminton, but Thompson said she hopes that number will grow after she graduates this year.
“So many people get involved with it and... it’s been an essential part of my high school experience for sure,” Thompson said.
Megan Ryan is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.