A group of immigrant students in Chicago are the rising stars of a new — and unlikely — girls varsity sport in Chicago Public Schools.
It started in February, when teacher Dongyu Bao posted flyers in the hallways of Kelly High School. The Southwest Side school serves mostly Latino students, but Bao’s flyers weren’t in Spanish — they appeared in English and Chinese.
Bao, a Chinese immigrant, was launching an all-girl varsity badminton team.
It’s a hugely popular sport in China. Think American basketball.
All girls were invited to try out, but Bao specifically wanted to reach Kelly’s Chinese students, a small group at the school.
“When I saw it, I was like, ‘I want to join, like so bad,” Qianna Lin, one Kelly student said.
“We really like to play badminton, but in my elementary and middle schools, we didn’t have any badminton teams,” added Yesha Yu, another student.
Lin and Yu are both from China. They rushed to sign up. And they weren’t the only ones.
By April, Bao had a team of about 20 girls, mostly Asian students. Some are children of Asian immigrants, and others are immigrants themselves who are still learning English. They attend Kelly’s strong bilingual program for Chinese students.
The team — which has a winning record and is at the top of their CPS division — has given the girls a place to call home as they adjust to American life.
“They are still struggling to accommodate themselves to ... the new environment, the new country for many of them,” Bao said. Badminton, he added, is helping them “to really learn about, and feel comfortable, about the American culture.”
Bao, who was a serious badminton player in China, knew his students needed a place where they could share their talents and feel welcomed.
Bao had been running a badminton club for boys and girls at Kelly, but created an all-girl varsity team after the school district picked the school as one of 13 to add badminton as a competitive sport this spring.
The addition of badminton comes a few years after an investigation by the U.S Department of Education found that Chicago Public Schools wasn’t providing enough sports for female students.
With this new team, Bao already accomplished one of his main goals — to boost the confidence of this small group of Kelly students.
“At least there is a sport that we all love to do,” said Michelle Duong, one of the players. “We have a lot of unique, talented people in our team that can play with other players well.”
The Kelly High School girls are headed to the the city championship Saturday. There, they will face Chicago’s other best teams. But regardless of the outcome, Bao believes they have already won in their very first season.