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Whose side are you playing on?

The badminton match was under way, but his son Anton seemed oddly uncompetitive despite the impressive warm-up.

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I consider myself a modest man and ordinarily do not extol my talents, experiences, or accomplishments. Be that as it may, when I saw a recent flier at the University of Maine for a badminton tournament, a memory erupted: I was the 1976 class badminton champion at my alma mater in New Jersey. And here, flung before me, was my chance to recapture past glory.

Badminton. The great understated – and seldom thought of – sport. It looks easy: Knocking the birdie over the net is akin to swatting a fly. In college I took the requisite one credit in physical education, and badminton seemed like an easy A.

I was mistaken. As in any sport, there exist questions of skill and finesse. I possessed neither, but I was a fast learner. This, combined with a drive to win (I am from New Jersey, after all), garnered me the championship in a single-elimination event that lasted a week. Not bad for a kid who couldn't even make the bowling team in high school.

All of this was a long time ago. In the interim I have rarely thought of badminton, much less had opportunities to play. But the prospect of a tournament ignited something in me, a sense that maybe I still had the old pizazz, that fighting badminton spirit, the eye for the birdie that had brought Mr. Boucacas, my college badminton instructor, to pat me on the head after my winning turn and say, "Good boy."

Yes, even though I am now past the half-century mark, perhaps I could still be that good boy. When I divulged my ambition to my 14-year-old son Anton, he took a step back and examined me with a skeptical eye.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked. "Those other players are in their teens and 20s."

"No problem," I said. "They may have speed and endurance, but I have heart."

Anton shrugged. "Sure, Dad," he sniffed before turning to his affairs.


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