Indeed, in the world of octogenarian badminton players, Jack Harvey is exceptional. Harvey is the National Senior Games (NSG) men's singles 80+ badminton champion, part of the NSG men's doubles 75+ champion team, and part of the NSG mixed doubles 75+ champion team. He is also ranked first in men's singles 80+ by the USA Badminton association.
A mere month after returning from the National Senior Games, Harvey and his wife Marion are traveling to Edmonton to play in the World Masters Game Open division (for national, state, and provincial champions). For Harvey, though, it's just another World Masters Games year and a chance to play badminton with competitors from all over the world. Since the World Masters started in 1985, "we haven't ever missed the Games," he says. At the World Masters Games (the largest sports festival in the world, drawing upwards of 20,000 participants), Harvey plans to compete in the men's singles, the men's doubles and mixed doubles. His team, composed of senior badminton players from all over the West Coast, will compete in the team portion.
Harvey's badminton career began when he was a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School. Harvey was on the tennis team there, but a tennis coach lured Harvey and several of his teammates into the world of badminton. "Spokane was a good town for badminton," explains Harvey, "and we had a great junior group. We were very strong in the nation at the time."
It turned out to be the right choice of sport, as Harvey went on to win the Spokane City Badminton Championships not only the next year but for the following 20 years. (He only lost once, after he came back from serving in World War II.) He met his wife playing badminton in the 1940s and continued to play while working as a manufacturer's representative for heating and air conditioning equipment. He even taught his four children the strategy and techniques of badminton; his sons still play the sport. "The girls played, but mostly under duress," he says jokingly.
Now that he has retired, Harvey and his wife, who also plays competitively, spend their time traveling to badminton competitions nearly every month. "We have a strong social connection with people across the country," Harvey says. In fact, the friendships that the Harveys have formed are key to their love of the sport. "I like the competitiveness and the camaraderie," he adds.
When in town, the couple can be found practicing at the West Central Community Center with the Spokane Badminton and Pickle Ball Club. Although they practice twice a week with about 40 other regulars, all ability levels are welcome. "We just come at 7 pm, and whoever's there forms a team," says Harvey.
While badminton isn't about to challenge NASCAR in popularity, according to Harvey, it is the second-largest participatory sport in the world, right behind soccer. It is especially popular in England, Australia, China and India.
Part of the problem is convincing the public that badminton can be a serious sport. "A lot of people think it's a lawn sport," he says, "and that's our problem -- convincing people that badminton is a real game."
Harvey has worked to change that perception over his lifetime. He served on the U.S. Badminton Association Board of Directors for more than 10 years, along with coaching and encouraging young players in the Shuttlefreaks Badminton Club at Lincoln Heights Elementary.
Whether seniors enjoy recreational or competitive sports, Harvey recommends they get plugged into a club or group that focuses on their sport. "There are so many opportunities here. I can't think of a sport that doesn't have someone qualified in Spokane," he says.
Of course, in Harvey's opinion, there's only one best sport. "There's more deception, more speed, more endurance in badminton," he explains. With luck, he hopes never to quit. "We're running out of competitors," Harvey admits woefully, but for him, it's not all about the competition. "I just play to play," he says. That may sound simple, but it has been a formula for success for more than 65 years. And if Harvey has any say in it, that streak will continue for many more.n
For more information on the World Masters Games in Edmonton, Alberta, on July 22-31, visit www.2005WorldMasters.com.