They're good at badminton; local players go to nationals

Badminton doesn't have the term "love" like its racquet counterpart tennis, but Joe and Grace Rigdon are doing their best to change that.

The Huntersville husband and wife met about seven years ago on a badminton court in Charlotte. Their love for one another grew as they played the sport together at Huntersville's Waymer Recreation Center.

Senior adults have been meeting there for badminton every Tuesday and Thursday morning since 2004.

The program is hosted by Huntersville Park and Recreation, and it averages about 12 players every session. They play recreationally most of the year, but many of them also compete in Senior Games competitions.

This month, several local players will be traveling to Houston for the Senior Games national championships.

Until seven years ago, Lake Norman-area badminton players had to travel to Charlotte's Marion Diehl Center to get their fix. At that time, Huntersville resident Brian Myerscough, now 77, approached the Huntersville recreation department about finding a place to play on the northern side of Charlotte.

Waymer was available, and the group has been playing there ever since. Park and Recreation supplied the nets for the two courts and had regulation badminton lines permanently imprinted on the floor.

The Waymer expansion led to other facilities opening their doors to senior badminton, including J.V. Washam Elementary in Cornelius and the Mooresville War Memorial building. Players can play just about every day of the week, among facilities in Iredell, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

Grace Rigdon, 63, said she remembers playing badminton in her native Jamaica as a much younger woman. But when she picked up a racquet for the first time in 30 years, it "was like I was starting over."

Joe Rigdon, 75, had been playing badminton since 1999. He didn't meet Grace until she started playing in 2004. Doubles play is fairly common, especially in recreational circles, and the future couple enjoyed playing on the same side of the court.

Together, the Rigdons have won countywide mixed-doubles titles in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. They have enjoyed even greater success off the court: They got married on Dec. 3, 2008.

"We just seemed to get along pretty well," Joe Rigdon said. "We did pretty well as badminton partners, and it just grew from there."

In competitions, the Rigdons have fared better with doubles partners of their own sex. Joe Rigdon and Brian Myerscough won a silver medal at last year's Senior State Games and qualified for this year's nationals. Neither will attend, though, since the financial requirement for a trip to Houston is quite demanding.

Grace Rigdon and Helen Patil, 68, of Davidson have been doubles partners since 2006. They also qualified for nationals, but only Patil will be attending.

The same thing happened in 2009 when Patil played at the national games in Palo Alto, Calif. Patil played with a partner from North Carolina, although she had not known her previously. This year, Patil's partner is from Kansas.

Patil said she has improved tremendously since she started playing badminton in late 2004. She was hesitant about giving it a try, but "something drew me."

"I was exercising, but it was boring," Patil said. "I had no idea about badminton. I envisioned it like playing in the back yard. This is much different."

Other Lake Norman-area players also will compete at the national Senior Games this month. Waymer player Lynette Plummer of Huntersville will be going, as will her husband, Compton, who plays at Washam. William and Margaret Hewitt of Davidson play in Charlotte and also are headed to the nationals.

Chimi Sada of Mooresville, who was instrumental in starting badminton at the War Memorial building, qualified for nationals but does not plan to attend.