Male team manager has a different experience than most on the Corona del Sol Badminton team
December 7, 2022 by Riley Swenson, Arizona State University
In a match against Queen Creek, Corona del Sol had the win well within reach, but towards the end of the match, two players went over to a court in the back corner and started warming up.
The players didn’t look the same as the rest, though. They were both wearing different uniforms than their respective teams – long shorts and t-shirts, to be exact. They casually warmed up like the rest of their teammates did and then began their match, playing to 21. When one of the players won, they shook hands and went back to their respective benches.
This was a typical match for Karthik Raman. It was one of the few chances he would get to compete in his Corona del Sol uniform throughout the year against another boy.
Males are not allowed to play badminton according to AIA bylaws, said Seth Polansky, the AIA director of sports information. But that isn’t stopping Raman.
Raman is a male, meaning he is not allowed to officially be on the roster of the Aztecs’ badminton team. Instead, he is the team manager which allows him to still be at all the practices and games. Since he is not able to play in any official matches, he practices at the AZBC Badminton facility in Mesa. That practice is put to use when he is able to play in exhibition matches against other boys from other teams. Most schools don’t have exhibition teams, let alone males that are able to play against Raman, so his opportunities are limited, but that makes them more special.
“Karthik really looks forward to playing other males when there is an opportunity,” head coach Katie Pick said.
Playing in one of those matches is when Raman feels the most part of the team. Raman has gotten used to this though and doesn’t take it for granted.
“It felt like I was really a part of the team when I was able to show my skills on the court. Even though it was only a few times this season, all the girls cheering me on really made me feel included as a member of the team,” Raman said.
Not only does Raman play in matches when possible, he also helps out the coaches with practice on a daily basis. Having played since he was 7 years old, Raman is very experienced with the game and can teach everyone a few things. Pick said he is most useful in helping out some of the younger players who are just starting out playing badminton. During the matches he does not get to compete in, he helps the team out by giving pointers on where they can improve.
“Karthik brings positivity and knowledge of badminton to the team. His knowledge of the game and what he observes during matches allows girls to enhance their weaknesses,” Pick said.
Fitting in with the team for Raman has been seamless.
The culture around Corona del Sol’s badminton program is built on teamwork and adding Raman to the roster fits that bill. Everyone in the program has talked about how much they enjoy having him around.
“It really wasn’t as different as you might expect. Karthik got along well with everyone so it was just like having another teammate who was always there but just never played in matches,” senior Merilyn Li said.
Being the same age as the girls on the team, it is a different experience from a coach when Raman is helping out. But the team understands that although he’s similar in age, his knowledge is beyond his years.
For Raman, this experience has been different, but it is something he said he has really enjoyed. Playing on a girl’s team and trying to fit in can be hard, especially for a high school kid. It’s a time when people are scared of what others think of them or how they will be looked upon by their peers. Every decision is looked at under a microscope.
Raman had simple advice for anyone thinking about trying the sport of badminton.
“I would say to just go for it. It doesn't matter that it seems like a nerdy sport or a sport that's ‘just for girls’, if it makes you happy and you really enjoy it, just keep going for it,” he said.
Over the years, there has been an increase of boys that “just go for it” and try out badminton. Pick said each year she gets more and more of them that sign up and has to tell them it’s a girl’s sport.
Not having a boys badminton team at a high school is not an uncommon occurrence. According to MaxPreps, there are only nine boy’s badminton teams around the country outside of California. But with seeing Raman play and the joy he has for it, Pick thinks there may be an opportunity for growth in the boy’s game.
“I would hope that over time, there might be a male team or mixed teams so that they have the opportunity to play,” she said.
Raman is not the only male in the valley who is a team manager for a badminton team. Wyatt Goodman from Queen Creek is going through the same situation. Goodman has taken on a similar role of helping out the coaching staff from time to time with teaching badminton.
“I think it is great having him around because he is the same age as the players. If there is something I might not understand he can explain it to me in a way I can understand it. I think that the girls like having someone that is their age they can go to,” coach Jason Rhone said.
Just like Pick at CDS, Rhone has seen an increase in males wanting to play badminton. Unfortunately, there’s just not a ton of opportunities for them to play.
“This year we had another three boys that wanted to play but I had to let them know that because of the rules they could only play if the other schools had a boy or boys on their team,” he said.
Rhone also had similar feelings on whether or not there is an appetite for boys badminton becoming a sanctioned sport. He talked about how when he started there wasn’t nearly the amount of sports at the high school that there are today and maybe boys badminton is next to being added.
“I would like to see it become more of an option for males…I think that the more chances kids have to be part of a team it is a great experience for them,” he said.
Of course everyone understands that a major factor of not having boys badminton is due to Title IX. But clearly in the cases of Goodman and Raman, there is an interest in boys being a part of the badminton team.
For now they will have to settle with being team managers and competing in exhibition matches, which is more of an opportunity than most boys around the country have.