Jay “Moose” Cohn, 16, of Manhattan Beach became the youngest men’s player ever to compete for the United States on its badminton team after qualifying for the Pan American Games Individual Championships that will take place this week in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Cohn, a junior on the Mira Costa High School badminton team, will play in the doubles competition with longtime Manhattan Beach native, Dean Schoppe, 61.
“I was excited, really cool,” said Cohn upon hearing the news.
Both players play at Manhattan Beach Badminton Club and Schoppe works with Cohn on his game and is also his professional doubles partner. Even though they play together, getting a chance to play in such a high-level competition was perfect timing.
“This wasn’t planned,” said the longtime player.
No. 4 ranked doubles team
It was tough for Cohn to comprehend the historical significance of playing for the U.S. at such a young age. It was not something he really was focused on, he said, but a reality of it that came about due to a sport he enjoys playing.
“The Pan Am Games was not something I really expected to go to. It was not my huge goal in life. It was just that we had the opportunity because we played in international tournaments before so we took advantage of the opportunity,” said Cohn, who with Schoppe is ranked the No. 4 men’s doubles team in the United States.
“I’m really glad for Moose,” Schoppe said.
Schoppe, who has played the sport for decades and is well versed on the history of United States teams competing in the Summer Olympics and the Pan American Games over the years, is confident Cohn is the youngest ever.
“There has never been in my experience—we have not had a 16-year-old male,” Schoppe said. “There is nobody in my recollection that has ever been this young as a male to be on the adult team.”
“This is remarkable,” another player told Schoppe.
Growth spurt helped
One of the reasons for Cohn playing is his tremendous improvement in the game of badminton in a short period of time.
A growth spurt has helped his overall game; he is a taller player which allows him to hit better shots.
“It has (helped),” said Cohn, who is around 5’-9” now. “I was really super short for a while.”
Cohn was around 5’-1” when he was a freshman and 5'-5" as a sophomore, so he has grown seven to eight inches the last two years.
His game has evolved as well due to him playing in the high school league and working with coaches. And he is creative on the court, which keeps his opponents from figuring him out too easily with where he will go with his next shot.
The tournament will be a tough one for the team. One loss and your play comes to an end. The team is playing in their first match the No. 1 team from Guatemala on their home court at their altitude (5,000 feet).
“We’re going to have to serve really well,” Schoppe said. “We have to keep our perspective and play the way that we play well, transition well from defense to offense.”
In some of the countries, badminton players are treated as professional athletes. Their whole life revolves around the sport while the Americans are more like part-time players.
For Shoppe, it is probably is his last big go-round and he is taking it all in with his young playing partner.
“I look at this as my last big U.S. representation.”
He has played for more than one U.S. team over the years.
Originally, he looked at just playing in some tournaments with Cohn, but their success went a bit further so he is thrilled at the opportunity to represent the United States.
While they are the No. 4 ranked team in the U.S., two of the other teams have players that are not U.S. citizens so their teams did not meet the requirements and cannot play.
Fellow USA team member Isabel Zhong spoke about Cohn playing in the Pan Am Games at just 16.
“It’s been amazing to see the strides Moose has made in the past couple of years,” Zhong said. “He puts an incredible amount of focus and drive into his intensive training at the Manhattan Beach Badminton Club and with the Mira Costa team.”
She added, “It’s great to see his hard work paying off through his accomplishments at weekly high school tournaments and high level professional tournaments such as the Canada Open and the U.S. International Challenge. He’s an incredibly talented and good-humored badminton player and I’m glad to have him as a fellow USA teammate.”
Zhong is a former USA junior national champion and CIF Southern Section champion and one of the best ever to come out of Manhattan Beach Badminton Club.
“This is my second-year coaching Moose in high school badminton and not only has he improved skills-wise, but his attitude towards the game by staying calm and focused has made him an all-around wiser player,” said high school coach McKenna Wilson. “His ability to work hard and play even harder has made him a very strong opponent.”
Higher level of competition
The team left for Guatemala City last Tuesday and their first competition is today. If they keep winning, they could play as long as Sunday when the tournament comes to an end.
According to Cohn getting a medal is not likely to happen since they will be playing against some of the best competitors in the America’s.
Playing against high-level competition he has matured to the point where he is at their level to some extent.
“He brought himself up to a much higher level,” Schoppe said. “There is no substitute for competition.”
To get better you have to play and sometimes lose to the players at a higher level.
Schoppe explained that the world's top badminton players come from China while the current top player is Victor Axelson of Denmark. India has a number of top players as well. He says the top players can earn millions in endorsements if they play overseas.
Cohn and Schoppe got a first round bye in the 32-team tournament. Only the top three teams will earn medals.
They play a best-of-three format with each game to 21 points. Rally point scoring is used as in volleyball. The first team to win two games wins the tournament.