Title: Birdies Set Their Eyes on the Prize

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on their endeavors, but the Stuyvesant Birdies are back, and they’ve got their eyes on the championships.

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By Sasha Socolow

Boasting a dominant 8-2 season, Stuyvesant’s boys’ badminton team, the Birdies, ended the 2019 PSAL season as runner-up in the city finals. Shortly after, the world shut down in March 2020, and the Birdies’ chances at redemption were postponed.

However, the pandemic didn’t deter the team. While they’d normally practice at school, the Birdies tried to compensate by finding local badminton centers. Unfortunately, looking for locations wasn’t easy. “The badminton centers were mostly closed or highly restricted,” senior and co-captain Junhao Zhen said. As a result, the team was forced to cancel group practices entirely, and members were left to prepare on their own terms.

Such unprecedented times posed great uncertainty regarding when PSAL badminton would return. However, in March, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the reopening of schools, and with it, the impending return of PSAL. Practices were to resume in mid-April, and competitions were set to return by May. “We were in a bit of a hurry to recruit new people and to finalize our starters,” senior and co-captain Mark Zhu said. In addition to the narrow time frame, the virtual setting proved to be difficult in keeping members on the same page.

With many new recruits never having stepped foot in Stuyvesant, coordinating practices and tryouts was challenging. Furthermore, the return of PSAL sports was accompanied by a mask mandate, which proved to be a hassle to the team members during outdoor practices in the heat.

However, the team was able to overcome the obstacles set by lockdown through the use of technology to organize virtual workouts and scheduled training sessions. “The veterans [also pitched in], teaching the new recruits and training with them to prepare them for exhibition matches,” Zhu said. Recently, the Birdies have resumed their practices in school, which has been extremely beneficial for the team.

As a result, the Birdies are optimistic about their upcoming season. With the efforts of their team members and managers, they have overcome the hardships set by the pandemic. With an intense period of tryouts, managers and seniors Jennifer Lee, Ava Lu, Nicole Sin, and Fanny Yin have assessed the recruits’ abilities and look to finalize a winning team roster by the end of September. “We are in good shape and will confidently take on any competition during this season,” Zhu said.

Head coach of the Birdies Marvin Autry has nothing but the championship title set in his sights. “We are very optimistic about another run at the championship, and this time, we have playoff experience on the team, so we have a solid shot at winning it all,” Autry said.

This playoff experience may be credited to the two returning members of the team, junior Lukas Chang and senior and co-captain Zhu, who have not only played before but were also part of the Birdies’ recent playoff run. Autry anticipates that the return of Chang and Zhu can restore the culture on the team to what it was before lockdown.

Regardless of the hurdles set by the pandemic and the cancellation of the last season, the Birdies are back, and they expect nothing less than to return to the finals and win the championship once and for all.