Badminton is a sport that is becoming more popular in Illinois high schools, and Oak Park and River Forest High School coach Paul Wright believes it’s due to an increased dedication being shown by participants.
“We’re seeing over the last five to 10 years more girls specializing in badminton year-round,” he said. “The main thing is getting kids to feel they’re part of something and go compete. We have six to eight girls that compete or train during the offseason, and that’s helped us grow as a program.”
The Huskies are off to a 1-1 start this year, defeating Downers Grove South and losing to Hinsdale Central. OPRF also finished second at the Thornton Fractional South Invitational on March 19.
After having the last two seasons either canceled or truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright is thrilled about OPRF having a full, normal year.
“The last two years have been hard,” he said. “The girls are super excited about getting out to see girls from other schools they haven’t seen in a year or two.”
Senior Amelia Hoog, a four-year varsity player, and sophomore Lilianna Jasinska qualified for last year’s state tournament in doubles. Wright will count on those two, along with seniors Violet Buckner and Cecilia White, to provide leadership for the Huskies.
“Amelia, Cecilia, and Violet are our captains,” he said. “The nice thing is that they remember what we did as a program when they were freshmen, and they’ve tried to connect with the others in our program. They’ve tried to create a collegial and communal feel with their teammates, and they want to create an atmosphere that encourages kids to come out.”
Wright, in his 10th season leading OPRF, believes the West Suburban Silver is one of the toughest conferences in the state with a pair of top programs in Hinsdale Central and York leading the way. He hopes the Huskies will compete with Downers Grove North, Glenbard West and Lyons Township for a finish in the upper half of the league.
Wright also would like to see OPRF have several players competing downstate in May.
“We’d like to get one or two doubles teams and at least one singles player there,” he said. “Just to qualify would show kids that if you pick up the sport in high school, you can have success if you work hard. We have two juniors, Kitty DeHaan and Caroline Raduchda, that as freshmen had never played badminton before, and now they’re a viable force with the potential to go downstate.”
After a week off for spring break, the Huskies return to match action on April 4 at Riverside-Brookfield High School and go to Lyons Township on April 5.
“Those are matches against teams we match up well with,” said Wright.