“Badminton gets a bad rep for being a childish sport,” laments Perry Hall High School graduate Kevin Vieira. “I like to show people there’s more to badminton than people think.” Vieira is the latest challenger for the prestigiously unofficial title of “Best (Singles) Badminton Player at UMBC,” facing off against self-proclaimed incumbent Mitchell “Misha” Betenbaugh.
On the morning of Feb. 21, ominous flyers started appearing around the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus. “Hi, I’m Misha,” they began in typed black text, and proceeded to lay claim to the championship title. Signing off with “Prove me wrong” and a phone number (and then “Side Note: HMU if you’re Creative/Woke” in fine print), the challenge was issued.
“The gauntlet has been thrown,” information systems junior Allison Battisti wrote on the school’s meme page, accompanied by a laughing emoji and a photograph of one poster. She had spotted it taped to the entrance of the on-campus Starbucks. “Honestly, it was just the sheer absurdity of it,” she explains of her first impression, “Like, I couldn’t tell if it was serious or not. Who claims to an entire school to be the best badminton player, like, badminton of all things, really?”
“I was playing in the RAC, and there wasn’t any competition for me, so I just decided to put the posters up to find people,” philosophy and economics senior Betenbaugh explains. Within a few hours, the physical flyers were removed by campus police, but the online community was already in a frenzy.
“Welcome to Misha’s Badminton Battlegrounds,” joked meme page admin Samuel Becker in a later post.
Betenbaugh has since seen a steady stream of opponents, the first nine of whom have lent credibility to his self-assessment thus far. “I’m 9-0 right now. This will be the tenth match since I put the posters up,” he recounts, “…It will be swift victory.”
“I’m a little nervous, but I am feeling pretty confident,” says Vieira as Betenbaugh negotiates use of the court, “I haven’t played in six years, though.”
The two men warm up, and Vieria holds his own for several passes before missing the birdie on a dive. Although the competition has yet to officially begin, Vieira is already reconsidering his chances. “He’s a fantastic player – I am getting a little worried,” Vieira admits.
The first game ensues, and Betenbaugh wins all but one point in 22 rallies. He estimates the total game time at around three to four minutes – a fraction of the 15-minute game time average reported by the Department of Physical Education at Baylor University – and the two decide a second game would be redundant. “That’s nothing, though. I beat one of the guys in the time it took to play one song,” Betenbaugh boasts.
“Misha is fantastic,” concedes Vieira.
Although she found it a little “cringey,” Battisti accepts this tournament as a piece of the university’s culture. “I feel like it just embodies the spirit of UMBC so much,” she sighs. “As much as I was surprised to see [the original flyer], I was also just like, ‘Yup. Only at UMBC.’”