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New Kids in Town

Villa Park has risen to the top of the county's badminton ranks thanks to some of the nation's top junior players on its team. Some of the Spartans' opponents are crying foul, however.

April 20, 1999|MELANIE NEFF and PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When the Southern Section reduced the number of division titles in badminton from two to one over the summer, the race between the 67 competing teams became extremely difficult to win.

When Villa Park joined that race in late August, it became next to impossible.

Villa Park has not fielded a badminton team since 1979, but suddenly has become the top prep team in Orange County. Perhaps the best in California. . . . Heck, it would be tough to find a better high school team in the nation.

The Spartans are undefeated at 10-0. They have beaten four opponents 19-0. And with the exception of Garden Grove, which they edged, 10-9, they have given up only nine points this season.

Five of the six girls on Villa Park's varsity roster are members of the U.S. Junior National girls' badminton team, which is living and training at the Orange County Badminton Club in Orange.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 27, 1999 Orange County Edition Special Section Part V Page 3 Sports Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Badminton--A story in the April 20 issue of Prep Extra incorrectly reported when school officials approved restarting the badminton program at Villa Park High. The program was approved in the spring of 1998.

The world-class facility was chosen last summer by USA Badminton as the Western Regional national training center.

The girls have come from as far as New York and Maryland to participate in USA Badminton's resident training program.

Because there is no tutoring at the club, the girls enrolled at nearby Villa Park High, rejuvenating a program that had been dormant for almost 20 years and consequently raising the eyebrows of some county coaches and players.

"They did everything legal and it was all cleared through CIF," said Diane Sweeney, badminton coach at Loara the past 14 years. "But it's still disheartening. It ruins it for all the rest of the kids."

Under the Southern Section's transfer rules, the girls are eligible to compete for Villa Park because they officially changed their residences and transferred.

"Nothing sneaky or under the table was done," Assistant Southern Section Commissioner Karen Hellyer said. "They all transferred legitimately."

But that doesn't mean opponents are happy about it.

"Some of the teams won't even talk to us," said Villa Park's Connie Hwang, 14, a freshman from Rowland Heights. "If they don't want us to play, that's too bad. We followed all the rules. If we went to their schools, I'm sure it would be a different story."

Vicki Toutz, who coached badminton at Garden Grove High for 31 years before retiring after last season, says that legal or not, allowing a team of this caliber to compete at the high school level could be detrimental to the sport.

"As a high school coach, I would be somewhat set back by this," Toutz said. "It's going to be tough for the rest of the programs to compete. Hopefully, it will make other teams work harder, but unfortunately, I think a lot of people will just give up.

"If this is what's going to happen and CIF is going to let it happen, they might as well give the title to them every year."

Casey Peters, a Villa Park junior from Manhattan Beach, said those complaining simply have too much time on their hands.

"I don't understand those questioning the whole thing," she said. "Come on, it's badminton--what's the big deal?"

Because it is badminton, different rules do apply.

The Southern Section rule book specifies 10 sports--badminton is one of them--as individual sports and allows year-round coaching and competition that is unaffiliated with the school for participants in those sports.

Sherry Smith, a teacher at Villa Park, is the official coach of the Spartans, but former Olympic coaches are running the USA Badminton girls' program and often offer assistance to non-program members of the Villa Park team, including the boys.

This is a huge advantage over most teams, which are lucky to get in two hours of practice under the guidance of any kind of coach.

And while Southern Section rules prohibit off-season practices with school-affiliated coaches present, there are no restrictions on the eight girls in the program because it is a nationally recognized program run by coaches unaffiliated with Villa Park.

The boarding situation is also unique. Eight girls are living in two small dormitories upstairs at the badminton club. They have a living room and kitchen facilities and each pay $300 a month in rent.

But unlike many year-round sports training facilities, the club does not offer any on-site schooling or tutoring.

Year-long tennis academies, which include school, are popular in Florida and are beginning to pop up in Southern California. But members of those academies in Southern California do not compete at the high school level.

"I don't know of any other situation like this one," Hellyer said.

This is the first time USA Badminton has had an official training site for juniors. There isn't a program offered for the boys, many of whom train with the national team in Colorado Springs.

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