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A badminton journey

Local vet's interesting road to Tacoma

Badminton enthusiasts gather every Monday at the Lakewood Community Center. Photo courtesy Joel Moelders

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It's a fairly well-known fact that soccer (or football, for those not in the U.S.) is the world's most popular sport. What's less well-known is the world's second most popular sport. Could it be basketball? Tennis? Hockey? One website, Badminton Information, claims that badminton actually takes silver in this competition. Now, they don't have any data to back that up, and they certainly have a reason to be biased, but badminton might be more globally popular than most people realize. Just ask Joel Moelders, the founder of the Tacoma Badminton Club, and a veteran.

Despite serving in the U.S. military, Moelders is actually a native of Germany, where he was born and raised. Growing up, his dad owned a badminton club, so he said that naturally, he fell in love with the sport.

"I played as an 8-year-old, and my father had a badminton club, and so I was initiated to become sporty (sic) by my parents," Moelders said.

So how did he wind up serving for our country? Moelders' self-admitted long story begins when he was a 19-year-old college student in Berlin, he helped drive an Oregon State University professor into East Germany (according to Moelders, the Berlin Wall hadn't started construction yet) to visit a local university, and from there, Moelders said he formed a bond that would eventually result in his moving to the United States.

"When (the professor) and his wife came back to Corvallis, Oregon, he asked me if I would ever be interested in finishing my studies in the United States. And of course, from there, a beautiful correspondence started between him and I," Moelders said. "And after a year and a half, he was asking me if I would come back to the United States to finish my studies."

After finishing his studies, Moelders began serving in the U.S. military, first as an aircraft maintenance technician in Arizona from 1962 through 1964, then working with the National Guard until 1969. Later, he wound up working in Tacoma, both at Fort Lewis' Gray Army Airfield, and for Coca-Cola, as a driver at first, but later as a manager for their Pacific Northwest division after climbing the corporate ladder.

However, despite being thousands of miles away from his family's badminton club in Germany, Moelders was still able to stay sharp on his game. Sometimes he practiced alone, but eventually, he said he found a very special partner who was a fellow enthusiast.

"I played through my entire military career, and many times I played the commander general at Fort Lewis in a one-on-one," Moelders said. "He was supposed to be retired, but he kept on playing badminton. But there was never anyone available to play badminton, until they found out I had the experience, so I was picked up three times a week from the company to play badminton, and it was a really good experience."

Of course, when asked whether those matches got competitive, Moelders chuckled and said, "It was all on a friendly basis."

So, what has Moelders been up to since? As mentioned earlier, he founded the Tacoma Badminton club 40 years ago, and it has been in the same location for its entire iteration, according to Moelders. Although he sadly mentioned that most of his family that gave him the love for the sport passed away years ago, Moelders is still passing down the game of badminton to many South Sounders at the Lakewood Community Center. Whether badminton truly is the second-most popular sport in the world or not, it definitely means a lot to this U.S. veteran from Germany.

Tacoma Badminton Club is held at the Lakewood Community center all-day on Mondays, and costs $4 per person. Call 253.272.9883 for details.

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