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Boost for Badminton?

The 19th staging of the Pan American Junior Badminton Championships recently has left the Jamaica badminton fraternity on a high. Although the medal haul was 2 less than that made in the previous championships Jamaica were happy to have walked away with one silver and five bronze medals.

Shane Wilson, Iesha Gordon, Demetri Francis, Anthony McNee, Jourdan Hydol Smith and Mikaylia Haldane were the standouts in the four-day competiton. Wilson walked away with Jamaica’s only gold medal after storming the boy's Under-13 competition.

The successes being experienced have raised hopes that there will be an investment in the sport which will target boosting the technical abilities of the players. Currently there are less than five national-level local coaches available to the JBA.

Badminton was introduced in Jamaica in 1927 and 10 years later the Jamaica Badminton Association was formed.

Following the formation of the association in 1937, the first All Jamaica Championships were held, but only doubles events were played.

Badminton experienced a huge setback in Jamaica because of 11 years of inactivity.  However, badminton was revived in 1953 when a number of clubs came together and approved a revised constitution for the association. Andrew Aguillar was then elected president and the All Jamaica Championship was revived.

The following year the Jamaica Badminton Association was accepted as a member of the world governing body – the International Badminton Federation.

Jim Leslie, a Scottish International player who was residing in Jamaica, dominated the sports from 1952 to 55. He won the men’s title during those years after competing for his native country Scotland for eight years.

Other outstanding players at that time were Ian Viera, Gille Alexander, Ronnie Nasralla, Danny DaCosta, Peter Nichols, Linlay Aitken-Lebskin, Greta DaCosta-Bell, Yvonne Taylor, Yola DaCosta-Riggs, Sheila Breakspear and Mavis Samms.

The local association shifted its attention to the junior after Andrew Aguilar demitted office in 1958. He was replaced by Sir Robert Kirkwood and served until 1963.

The first Junior All Jamaica Championships were launched in 1960 and have been held annually since.

Under the leadership of Balfe Bradley, who came in office in 1964, Jamaica entered the international field. In Bradley’s first year, Jamaica played in the Thomas Cup, the premier men’s team competition and suffered a 9-nil defeat to the United States.

During that same year, an eight-man team toured Mexico for the Open Championship.  Two years later in 1966, badminton was introduced into the Commonwealth Games, which was staged in Jamaica.

Players such as Tony Garcia, Keith Palmer, Richard Roberts and Doug Bennett dominated the men’s section during that period, while Pauline Laman, Barbara Lai and Chris Bennett were the outstanding females’ players.

In the 1970, the Jamaica Badminton Association shifted its attention to competition in the Caribbean.

Jamaica dominated the Caribbean during that period with players such as Victor Zaidie, Brian Haddad, Paul Nash, Andrea Chin, Anna-Kay van de Groot and Christine Chung.

Jamaica hosted the first official Caribbean Championships in 1972 shortly after Richard Roberts assumed the office of president. Also that year, the Caribbean Regional Badminton Confederation was formed and Jamaica dominated that competition in the early stages.

By the late 1970s badminton began to spread across the schools and today there is an Inter-School League and Knockout Tournament.

Among the country’s top players in recent years are Nigella Saunders, Canada-based Charles Pyne, Gareth Henry, who is currently training in Malaysia and Bradley Graham.

Alya Lewis, Shawnekka Phillips, Kristal Karjohn, Garron Palmer, Kirk Francis, Emelio Mendez and John Martin have also done very well in the sport.

Saunders is one of the country’s most successful female players in recent years. She became the first and only Jamaican badminton player to qualify for the Olympics.

Saunders competed at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and lost to 11-4, 11-1 to fourth seeded Mia Audina of the Netherlands in the opening round of the singles.

Saunders dominated the Jamaica National Badminton Championships with more than 12 titles.  She is also a many-time Caribbean champion.

Saunders also won two medals at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Saunders’ medal-haul comprises a gold in the women’s singles and a bronze in the mixed doubles. For the mixed doubles, she teamed up with Charles Pyne.

Charles Pyne also teamed up with Bradley Graham for a bronze medal in the men’s doubles at the 2003 Pan American Games.

The Jamaica Badminton Association’s main funding throughout the year came from the state-run Sports Development Foundation.

Vishu Tolan is president of the local association.