McCarrick started playing badminton as a physical education major at Syracuse University, from which she graduated in 1966. She took to the game quickly and became one of the top-ranked women in the country. When she arrived at Miller Place as a phys-ed teacher in 1970, McCarrick and then athletic director Don Pranzo agreed that junior high and high school students would get more out of their gym classes if they concentrated on one sport each semester. They also agreed that badminton was a good sport to start with, since the basic skills it requires are easy to learn. For 26 years every seventh-grader at Miller Place has played a half year of badminton in gym class.
McCarrick found that to compete in tournaments she needed more time to play and better players to train with, so she started an after-school club, inviting anyone interested in the game—junior high students, high school students, varsity team members and even their parents—to play in the evenings. She sent the older kids to play exhibitions for elementary school classes, and before long there were 75 people batting birdies around the gym each night. "You'd hit 20 serves or play a game to five, then go to the back of the line and wait for 20 minutes," says senior Dawn McNamara, 18, who has played on the Miller Place varsity since the seventh grade and is now the Panthers' No. 1 girls' singles player and a two-time national doubles champion. "I think I spent more time in line than I did playing. But everybody loved it."
McCarrick won three 35-and-over nationals singles titles, but in 1990, slowed by a bad back, she stopped training. Not long afterward she heard that Liu, who was coaching the Sri Lankan national team, was looking for a job in the U.S. McCarrick hired him to help coach the club and started charging heftier dues to pay him a salary. When Liu left in 1994 to coach in Chicago, the Miller Place club hired Butler, 32, who had been a member of the British national team for 12 years.
Butler and McCarrick took 28 players to this year's junior nationals, which were held April 4-7 at the Georgia State University Sports Arena in Atlanta, site of the upcoming Olympic badminton competition. It was the fifth national tournament for Kanowsky, who won a gold medal in the under-14 mixed doubles two years ago with teammate Alison Brown. This year he was seeded third in the under-16 boys' singles. Four days after his romp over Knauer he found himself staring across the Georgia State net at a familiar rival, second-seeded Trevor Lai of Dover, Mass., in a semifinal match. Kanowsky had beaten Lai a month earlier in the New England Junior Open tournament. In Atlanta they split the first two games, but, unable to find his rhythm, Kanowsky fell behind quickly in the third and lost to Lai 15-8. "I beat myself," he said afterward. "I gave him a lot of easy shots. I gave him a lot of points."
Overall, it was a successful though less-than-stellar junior nationals for Miller Place, which won a single gold medal—eight fewer than last year—and 12 silvers. (Their archrival, the club from Manhattan Beach, Calif., won 13 golds and two silvers.) Kanowsky finished second in the under-16 boys' doubles with partner Ken Claffie and won a second silver medal in mixed doubles, with Brown.
The Panthers' star was 18-year-old Katie Maloney, the club's winningest player in nationals competition. Maloney is an all-county setter, for the Miller Place girls' volleyball team, and in a volleyball game eight days before the junior nationals she had severely sprained her right ankle. With the ankle iced, taped and supported by an air cast, she outwitted Jia Hu of Palo Alto, Calif., 11-7 and 11-0, to win the under-18 girls' singles, her 12th national title in six years.
"I guess if I'd just stuck to badminton, this would've been easier," Maloney said, making it clear that she was happier to have done it the hard way. "Honestly, playing for the high school team gets old when you've been killing your opponents since eighth grade."
Despite their one-sidedness, the Panthers' high school matches are hardly grim affairs. Opposing coaches and players have learned to find the fun in certain and swift defeat. Commack High, Miller Place's 250th victim, showed up for the match wearing T-shirts that said 250 on the front and MILLER WHO? on the back. And at some point in almost every match there's a triumphant shout of "I scored a point!"
Barring, say, a teamwide flu attack, the Panthers' winning streak will continue, though it will do so without Butler. After the junior nationals, he told McCarrick that he had accepted the position of head coach of the U.S. national team. That means McCarrick will be looking for a replacement. She'll consider all applicants, but only big winners need apply.