Duke University

Duke University in North Carolina has a long history of Badminton, including hosting one of the earliest National Championships. Materials provided by Bob Cook and Bill McMahon.


"For me, there were three stories that struck me. The first was the fact that 4 players from my hometown, Niagara Falls, NY, were at the Duke tournament. One of them was Robert 'Bob' Williams, who was a player I watched as a kid and truly idolized. He once was beating up on Dave Freeman during his hay day, only to have his glasses bust in the second game, and then losing the next two games. He played with Ethel Marshall, also from the Niagara Falls area and a member of badminton hall of fame. She was my first coach, and like Bob, was a fantastic player to watch. She was a lefty, but that did not stop me from picking up some of her habits. She wasn't at the Duke tournament, I think she started in earnest a bit later in the 40's.

The second thing which was a realization mostly: the fact that WWII had started a few months before. It took a while for this to sink in but even at the university, student life was changing. The student newspaper, the Duke Chronicle (still in existence), had stories of study groups and classes on the war. Nursing students were taking leave to join the service and care for the wounded. ROTC had record number of students. There was some war news reporting, but as I remember from this sequester in the library, it was mostly about transport sinkings as they crossed the ocean.

Finally, about the tournament itself, there was a lead up to the event. In early Feb., 1942, the local newspapers started advertising the Duke national event, and it seemed very well sponsored. Local business, restaurants, and hotels were lining up to support the tournament. A month before the tournament, there was an exhibition match between two of the best badminton showmen at the time. The exhibition match was well reported in the local newspaper, and it was scheduled to occur after the wildly popular Duke - UNC basketball contest, around 8:00 pm. The show was prime time and much appreciated. Also, there were reports that intramural and recreational badminton participation had received a tremendous boost from the exhibition and upcoming national tournament. The local sports sections covered the event thoroughly, including the governor of the state throwing out the first shuttle. It was local news for sure, but the players and the subject were anything but. I am not old enough to 'know' what happened here in 1942. I am familiar with the place where it was played, having given badminton demonstrations during halftimes of Duke basketball games on a few occasions, and I can 'imagine' how, what and why the local Durham residents felt about this badminton event. Why? I experienced first hand and up close the local reaction to the USA-USSR track meet held here in 1974. People were thrilled to witness and have this track event. From what I read, and the amount of coverage the badminton nationals received, I can only assume the same special sense of pride and wonder was here in 1942, as well.

Bill McMahon, January 2022

The student newsletter Duke Chronicle included frequent articles regarding Badminton, including the below sampling from 1942:





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