Win number 358 resembled many of the previous 357 victories by the Miller Place (N.Y.) High badminton team. On April 2 the Panthers won all 13 singles and doubles matches against visiting Patchogue-Medford High. That's how Miller Place beats most of its opponents in Suffolk County, on Long Island. The No. 1 boys' singles match was typical: 18-year-old Patchogue senior Mike Knauer got a 20-minute lesson in the thrust and parry of high-caliber badminton from 15-year-old Miller Place sophomore Richie Kanowsky.
Kanowsky, 5'3" and 110 pounds, sports a wedge haircut and walks with attitude, but he was careful not to appear to be toying with Knauer. He moved the birdie and his 6-foot, 202-pound opponent around the court, feathering drop shots just beyond Knauer's lunging reach, firing 100 mph overhead smashes past Knauer and, after some of their rallies, leaving the older boy shaking his head in amazement and frustration. "Yes! I got the serve!" Knauer growled when one of his shots finally hit the floor on Kanowsky's side of the net.
Kanowsky won the best-of-three match 15-2, 15-1. On the last point he sent Knauer sprawling onto the floor, where he lay facedown for a few seconds before picking himself up and shaking Kanowsky's hand. "The kid's good," Knauer said, sizing Kanowsky up again. "You don't get anything past him. He's only 15?"
"I just try to keep the rallies going," said Kanowsky dryly, taking another look at Knauer. "He's only 18?"
"There's not a lot of drama to these events," said Miller Place's diminutive coach, 51-year-old Pat McCarrick, resplendent in a red sweat suit with a stitched shuttlecock on the back.
"It's a learning experience every time we play them," said Patchogue coach Terri Breen, whose players have yet to win one individual match against Miller Place in her three seasons as coach. "Their experience is overwhelming."
So is Miller Place's record. As of May 3 the Panthers had won 365 consecutive matches since McCarrick fielded the school's first varsity team (then just for girls) 23 years ago. It's the longest-known winning streak in the history of U.S. professional, collegiate or scholastic sports.
High school varsity badminton isn't widespread in the U.S.; it's played in only seven states by some 350 schools. The National Federation of State High School Associations doesn't even write rules for the sport or list it in its record book. Miller Place's success is that of a big fish in a small and shrinking pond. The Panthers' schedule is limited to the six other high school badminton teams in Suffolk County; a few years ago, before local budgets were cut, there were more than a dozen. Miller Place has won every county championship since the first one, in 1975.
Unfortunately, that's as far as the Panthers can go. There are 30 high school teams in neighboring Nassau County, but Miller Place hasn't played any of them since the last all-Long Island championship, in 1983. There's no New York State championship, either, because there are not enough schools represented across six of the 11 state sections to satisfy the requirements for staging a tournament.
So Miller Place steps up to better competition by sending a club team to contests around the country and to the Yonex U.S. Junior National Badminton Championships each spring. Since 1978 the Panthers have won 116 gold medals in national age-group singles and doubles. During the last six years the Miller Place club team has had the help of two world-class coaches, first, Jian Liu of China and, most recently, Steve Butler of England.