PAYSON — Most public schools offer the major sports — football, basketball, baseball.
Far fewer schools in Utah offer badminton as more than an occasional P.E. activity.
That’s not the case at Payson Junior High School, where teacher Eric Archer has built the Olympic sport into something a growing number of students chooses to play before school, during lunch, and in tournaments — even on days when school is not in session.
“I like how you can just hit as hard as you want, you know,” Archer said recently during a tournament he hosted for the Nebo School District. “I don’t know. I just kind of got addicted to it.”
Students have picked up on Archer’s passion for the sport, which is now in its 15th year at Payson Junior.
Principal Carl Swenson said in return, the sport has paid dividends at the school.
“We noticed a few years ago that our halls were not as chaotic, that some of the misbehavior was not happening in the halls and we started to wonder why, and as we explored during lunchtime and before school, the students were in here playing badminton,” Swenson said. “Some of the students that have struggled even finding a niche in school, whether it be academics or abilities or athletic abilities — they come in here and they excel, they succeed, they find a home.”
A number of students regularly come back, even though they’ve moved on from junior high.
“I was really shy when I was in seventh grade and badminton kind of helped me get out of my shell,” said Austin Bailey, now in 12th Grade, who participated in the district tournament.
Emily Petty, a student at BYU, said she continues to play intramural badminton after learning from Mr. Archer.
“I think it’s awesome he’s so committed to it — it’s a really good way to learn how to do other things in life as well,” Petty said. “I think it’s great. I mean, if you went anywhere else in the state, there’s like nothing. You’d have to go to California or Arizona or places that actually do stuff with badminton.”
Archer said he’d like to see the sport played competitively at the high school level in Utah, but acknowledged logistical challenges in terms of available facilities as well as the lack of a widespread commitment to the game.
Archer said badminton has become part of the culture at Payson Junior High and can do the same at other schools.
“There are kids walking around in the halls with their rackets and some of the teachers have complained ... ‘Set your racket down at the door, I don’t want you playing with your racket in class.' It’s huge,” he said.
Archer said he is grateful to see the kids he has taught continue to play badminton into their adulthood.
“That’s what I like to see is the kids still playing, you know, and having fun with the game,” he said.