Badminton matches at Rally Niagara Badminton in North Tonawanda draw players of all skill levels, says club owner and manager Michael Hacker. Photo: Douglas Levere
(Clockwise, from left) Praveen Arany, assistant professor in the UB dental school; Daniel Chan, OptiMed Technology engineer; recent UB graduate Mike Li; and Michael Hacker, manager and owner of Rally Niagara Badminton, after a game. Photo: Douglas Levere
Michael Hacker, manager and owner of Rally Niagara Badminton (center) standing with friends from the UB campus community during an evening’s play at Rally Niagara. Photo: Douglas Levere
Published June 17, 2019
Does thinking about badminton bring to mind images of a relaxed, backyard pastime?
Known as the world’s fastest racquet sport, competitive badminton is played at a relentless pace, requiring split-second decisions, reflexes and footwork.
A competition-grade shuttlecock — 16 feathers fixed in a cork base covered in kid leather — shoots off a carbon-graphite racquet at upwards of 200 miles per hour when hit by a skilled player.
“I began playing from around the time I was 4 or 5 years old, in India,” says Praveen Arany, assistant professor in the Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine.
“My father used to play for the University at Mysore, and he introduced me to badminton. So it sort of runs in the family. I have been playing on and off since then, whenever there is an opportunity.”
Before he was offered a position at UB, Arany says he always checked out the local badminton clubs while travelling to interviews.
“On my first interview at UB, I found this local club on the internet and went to visit with my family. I was elated at the excellent environment and friendliness of the folks here,” he says. “So I immediately told myself, ‘That’s it. I am coming to UB. There’s a badminton club!’”
“I also started when I was young,” says Aditya Vedantam, assistant professor in the Department of Operations Management and Strategy, School of Management.
“My father was my main influence. When I was in school in Delhi — I was about 10 or 11 — my dad was in the armed forces, and he and I used to go to a club and play badminton,” Vedantam says.
Vedantam came to the U.S. in 2008 and went to the University of Michigan for his master’s and Purdue for a doctorate in management, then came to UB.
For both Vedantam and Arany, the opportunity to play badminton in Buffalo came at Rally Niagara Badminton Club in North Tonawanda.
“I first learned about Rally Niagara from Praveen, who was a coach there,” says Vedantam. “I started coming to the club and found I really enjoyed the play and the competition — my game has really picked up.”
“Aditya and myself both joined UB in 2015 and have been playing here since then,” Arany says. “And the club connects with the community in all sorts of ways.”
“We have a very diverse and honorable culture here — and that is what makes it a great environment,” says Michael Hacker, owner and manager of Rally Niagara Badminton. “Our coaches and participants are from India, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guyana, France, Germany and Canada, among many other countries.
“We also regularly welcome a large number of people from the UB campus community — faculty, staff, alumni. All of these individuals bring a wide range of skill levels and backgrounds to the club. Amazing connections develop here,” he says.
One example, Arany says, is a relationship forged on the badminton court with Daniel Chan, an engineer with OptiMed Technology that led to exploration of possible science commercialization projects in Arany’s laboratory.
“At Rally Niagara, Praveen and I began working together organizing badminton tournaments here,” says Chan.
“We discovered there was a mutual benefit in combining our skill sets to start a biotech company. We put together research being conducted in Praveen’s laboratory in UB’s School of Dental Medicine, and started exploring the commercialization process.”
“This piqued my interest, as I had not considered commercialization as a possible avenue of translating our lab research into clinical care,” Arany says. “We began discussions on engineering problems that existed in development of the translation of some of our lab research into technologies or products for human clinical treatments, such as antifungal dentures that actively fight oral infections.
“We were recently awarded NY Start Up status and just began operations in Foster Hall.”
While waiting to begin a badminton match, Vedantam discovered the player he had just met happened to work for a logistics company in Buffalo.
“After the game, we were discussing some things related to his company, business problems they had been working to solve,” Vedantam says. “It turned out the issues he was facing were closely related to my line of research in operations management — particularly supply chain.
“We started working out the problem after a conversation with his chief information officer. Within a week or two, we had a solution for them,” he says. “As we all build friendships here, there are also opportunities to reach out to the community.”
“Ask people what the fastest racquet sport in the world is and it is likely that most would say tennis, or even squash,” says Hacker. “Few would come up with badminton, but those who did would be right.
“Rallies last for much longer than tennis — about 10 shots more on average — and the shuttle is in play for roughly double the time,” he says.
Hacker says as a sport, the modern version of badminton is extremely demanding, moving well beyond its genteel past.
“It is enjoyed recreationally by many people, whether at open play, instructional classes, or league play. Players taking the sport to the next level find it can be very competitive and physically demanding,” he says.
Vijay Muthaiah, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, who has been playing badminton at Rally Niagara for two years, agrees with Hacker’s assessment.
“I am from the southern part of India, and where I learned to play badminton the sport is getting more popular,” Muthaiah says. “Getting involved with the game again, here, is an excellent way to stay fit and push myself a bit. A fast-paced game with a few service smashes is also very useful for working through any type of stress you might have.”
“My older brother started playing badminton for his high school, and I would play and practice with him,” says Jerry Wong, who is primarily a physician with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is also a volunteer faculty member in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
“I have been playing badminton at Rally Niagara for about a year-and-a-half, after bringing my daughters here for lessons. The biggest benefits for me, personally, have been how it balances out my life away from work and reduces stress. I find this works very well for me,” Wong says.
Hacker says badminton brings players of all skill levels to Rally Niagara: “Badminton has a strong social aspect and it is an easy game to learn, but it is difficult to play it well.
“We would love to see more of our friends from the UB campus community come out, connect with others and experience the enjoyment of the sport.”
Badminton is now played recreationally and competitively by an estimated 220 million people around the world, second to soccer.
Additional information about badminton at Rally Niagara can be found on the club's website.