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Badminton ambassador Galbraith recruiting, still a champ at 65
With doubles partner Sutch, former FMS teacher looks for high national finish in ’07

Farragut’s Frank Galbraith, age 65, has been on a recruiting mission for decades while introducing overconfident tennis players — many less than half his age — to the sport of badminton.

It’s not about ego for Galbraith, a five-time Senior Olympic badminton state champ (three in doubles, two singles).

It’s to prove that badminton is much more than just a child’s game where a 20-year old tennis player can’t just change racquets and automatically win.

With a 13-point gift.

“What I used to do when I was young, I’d say we’ll play a game to fifteen, and I’ll give you thirteen points and you can start serving and we’ll go to fifteen — and if you win I’ll buy you a steak dinner,” Galbraith said about challenges to tennis players. “Well, nobody ever won because they had no idea how fast it is. ... They would not score anything, or occasionally score a point, because it’s so fast.

“If you’re just a little bit better than somebody, you can beat ’em in a game to fifteen by ten, twelve points,” Galbraith added.

“I’ve always tried to have this little get-together with anybody who plays tennis, and I say, ‘let’s play some badminton,’ and they’re kinda, ‘oh yeah, badminton,’ and I say, ‘no really, let’s play badminton.’”

With doubles partner Rod Sutch, 53, of Cedar Bluff, they have combined to win three Senior Olympic state titles in the 50-54 age group.

Sutch has won three singles state titles in 50-54. Galbraith previously won singles state titles at ages 50 (50-54 group) and 59 (55 to 59), and has also finished second on two occasions with one third-place showing.

Galbraith said he met Sutch a few years ago at a local church — chomping at the bit for this northeastern transplant to turn 50 and be eligible for Senior Olympics.

“A badminton player just has to find somewhere to play, and I found some guys playing up at Cedar Springs Presbyterian,” Galbraith said. “And I met this guy from upstate New York. ... He’s real good.”

The elder Galbraith has hardly been a albatross to Sutch playing in the 50-to-54 doubles (to match the age of the younger player). The combo is three-for-three in their quest for Senior Olympic gold, having won in 2003, ’04 and ’06.

Nationally, Galbraith and Sutch were among the top seven in the Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh in 2005 despite injuries. “I had broken a toe, and Rod had a bone in his foot that was hurting badly, I think it was eventually [determined to be] cracked,” Galbraith said. “We won a couple of games up there, then we finally got beat by the team that came in second in the United States.”

Qualified for the 2007 Senior Olympic National Games in Louisville, “I cannot wait to get back up there,” Galbraith said. “Our goal would be to be healthy enough to participate in the finals, to be able to get in the top one or two there.”

As for secrets to their success, “We both know badminton pretty well,” Galbraith said. “We know where you should hit the bird in a certain situation. And we have maintained the ability, to a normal and average degree, to hit the birdie like you want to hit it.”

“I’m not near as good as a used to be, but I know where to hit it.”

In addition, “We know how to play together as a team,” Galbraith said. “It’s important to play wise badminton by position and to know where to go and when to cover for your partner.

“Combine the two elements of knowing where to stand and where to hit the birdie, and what kind of shot to hit, and then still be able to do it physically,” Galbraith added. “Rod can still smash it over a hundred and-fifty miles an hour the first few feet.”

Galbraith said his current top speed is “a hundred and-thirty, a hundred and-forty, I can’t do what I used to do.

“Some of the top badminton players in the world will hit the birdie between a-hundred and-eighty and two hundred miles an hour the first five feet. You can’t even see it.”

Galbraith said he currently plays as a guest at a badminton club at Tellico Village “at least once a week, and I play at the U-T rec center hopefully once a week with these young men from Indonesia and China, the Phillipines, India and places like that.

“Rod and I can generally handle them.”

Playing best two-out-of-three games to win a match, each game is decided by the first player or team to 15 with at least a two-point lead.

The badminton court is 44-by-20-foot for doubles, while for singles the court is 17 feet wide. The net is five-feet high.

“I think that I saw my first badminton match when I was ten years old, down there by the lake in Concord, and I saw these folks hitting this thing in the backyard over this net and I thought that looked so cool,” Galbraith said of an encounter with Ruby Laughlin and Bill Hall. “I went down there to see what was going on after supper one night. And somebody said, ‘here, you want to hit it?’ I started hitting it and I just loved it.

“When I was in the seventh grade, Ken Woods and I went up to up to the Y-M-C-A in Knoxville to a tournament, and it was just great, I just loved it,” Galbraith added about his second-place finish “to a tennis player who was three years older than me.”

The 65-year-old said chronic leg problems have limited him to doubles competition in recent years. “I have one leg longer than the other one, so it was wearing me out to do that, so I decided to stay with the doubles until I build my legs back up,” Galbraith said. “I intend to do singles in the future again.”

As for popularity, “Most Americans do not know what a wonderful game it is,” Galbraith said, adding that badminton is the second behind only soccer as the most popular participation sport in the world. “It’s because so many millions of people in Asia play it.

“Americans, mostly, know badminton as a course you take in high school or college in the backyard and stuff. You just hit around, there’s not much to it. Competitive badminton became an Olympic sport like two or three Olympics ago.”

A tournament champion at three colleges, Galbraith played in college in Kentucky and at The University of Tennessee before ending up on a badminton team at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. “I went up there and I could beat anybody up there,” Galbraith said of his ETSU days.

That’s when Galbraith learned a quick but valuable lesson about badminton strategy.

Upon a cross-state trip to Memphis to play in a tournament, “I played a man who was like thirty years old, Doctor Sherrill Smith, and he just beat the liver out of me in two games,” Galbraith said.

Dumbfounded, “I said to Sherrill, ‘how did you beat me?’ And he said, ‘Well Frank, I don’t think you know the fundamentals.’ And I said, ‘fundamentals, what are you talking about?’ I had never had any teaching about that.”

Smith taught Galbraith such things as where to stand and how to place shots.

Playing Smith again the next day, “I applied what he taught me and I beat the liver out of him,” Galbraith said.

After college and before Senior Olympics, “I would go downtown to the Y-M-C-A and play Tuesdays and Fridays [against] some real good players,” Galbraith said. “And when I started teaching and coaching, any time they had any badminton racquets that were out I would get ’em and show ’em how to hit, you know.”

Galbraith was a teacher for 39 years — the final 35 at Farragut Middle School as a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher (1970-71 through the 2004-05 school year). “It was a privilege and pleasure to teach at Farragut,” he said.

Galbraith is also a former teacher at what was then called Halls Junior High School who started a track and field team there before becoming an assistant coach at FMS. He also was head football coach at Halls Junior High.

A 1959 graduate of Farragut High School, “We had fifty-four students in our graduating class,” said Galbraith, a member of the FHS track and field team for three years in the half-mile, discus and pole vault.

He went on to become at decathlete at UT before joining the ETSU track and field team.

Galbraith’s one failing? “I haven’t been successful in making a good badminton player,” he said, adding that students he taught badminton to at FMS would later drop the sport.

As for ideas to increase the popularity of badminton locally, “I wish they would set up some places around here in West Knoxville, some gyms, [where] folks could come and play sometime and let ’em experience the joy, you know, of playing badminton,” he said. “It is so fast, tremendous cardiovascular workout when you play badminton. It develops everything.”

As for age, “You can play badminton until you die,” Galbraith said. “At Tellico we have people in their seventies and a few in the eighties, I think. And they’re good players, too.

“It’s just by the grace of God that I’ve been able to do all these things,” added Galbraith, who is currently choir director at Union Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

For those interested in playing, or at least giving badminton a try, contact Galbraith at:


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