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 Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK badminton teams have blossomed

Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK boys badminton player Josh Martin

Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK boys badminton player Josh Martin with girls player Allison Scher at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK Middle School on Friday. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

If the adage is that you crawl before you walk and you walk before you run, it seems pretty safe to say that the Plainview-Old Bethpage badminton programs have skipped right over the walking part.

The school first fielded the teams in the 2017-18 school year and they had unremarkable inaugural seasons. This second year of play has been a very different story. The boys team went 10-0 to capture the Nassau II championship, won its first postseason match and finished the fall season 14-1. The girls team is in the midst of penning an inspiring turnaround; after finishing 2-13 a year ago, the Hawks are a perfect 10-0 in Nassau VI.

Both teams are being promoted to more-competitive conferences in 2019-20.

“The truth about last season is that we weren’t even completely sure how the game worked,” said junior Allison Scher, who is 7-2 at first singles. “But there was a passion for the game and a team-wide commitment to making ourselves competitive. A lot was put in between last season and this one in terms of conditioning and skill work.

“We wanted to win more than last year. When we won our first game we were halfway there. But we have just kept on winning. It’s something we’re really proud of.”

The foundation for the success was laid by second-year coach Jenna Cavuto. She played varsity badminton for Mepham, helped start a club program at Adelphi and understood there would be things to overcome in a fledgling program.

“Badminton is misunderstood because to most people it is something you play in the backyard,” Cavuto said. “This is an Olympic sport. I expect the athletes on my teams to put in the same amount of work and dedicate themselves to it just as much as the football players or lacrosse players do.”

That means that if you’re going to play for the Hawks — boys or girls — be prepared to spend half of every practice working on conditioning and then another 30 minutes on drill work before anyone serves a shuttlecock.

“Jenna was exactly what we wanted when we needed a coach for these new programs: she started a program in college and we are starting a program here,” Hawks athletic director Joe Braico said. “She has done everything with excellence...and has built a great culture. Everything she does is about making the kids better players.”

Senior Josh Martin — with help from Princeton Huang — was the driving force in starting the badminton programs. Martin fell in love with the sport six years ago and began a grass roots campaign to get a varsity-level program at the high school back then. Braica said the effort was in full swing by the time Martin started high school.

Martin created high interest among students in starting teams. Huang produced a petition that made Braica want to put the programs in the athletics budget. Braica said “it was clear there was a desire to have these teams and Plainview has a school board and superintendent that are very supportive.”

Martin was 13-1 this season at first singles for the boys and Cavuto said the Hamilton College-bound team captain “has a lot to be proud of.”

Individual accomplishments aside, he may be even more proud of the overall success of the two teams. “It makes me feel incredibly fulfilled to see the success of [both] teams,” he said. “When you put so much into the creation of something, see it come to life and then see it prosper? I’m not sure it could be more rewarding.”

In the halls of POB-JFK last year, the word of the fledgling teams was met more with raised eyebrows than enthusiasm, Scher said. This year, she explained “our classmates know about the team and that we’ve been winning and that feels good.”

POB-JFK hasn’t mastered the badminton learning curve by any means. The Nassau conference alignments are ability-based. So the Hawks programs have gone from a crawl to run on flat ground. The promotions next season mean they will see if they can keep running on an incline.

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