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“I’m always very strong and confident in myself and I try to show them that deaf people can do anything,” Hinsdale South's Judy Yang said. | Supplied Photo
Hinsdale South freshman Judy Yang has barely started her high school badminton career but is already being compared to some of the all-time greats.
Hinsdale South coach John Charters says Yang has the potential to join York’s Linda French and Downers South’s Erin Hois as the best high school players to come out of Illinois.
French and Hois both won three state singles titles. French went on to play in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics while Hois won a national championship.
Matching those achievements would be made more incredible because Yang is deaf, having lost her hearing at age 2 for unknown reasons. Yet she doesn’t shy away from such comparisons.
“Oh, yeah, I could match that for myself,” Yang said through interpreter Laura Dadgar Carroll. “My goals are to go to the Olympics and to the deaf Olympics. I would really like to do that.”
Yang’s family is from China, but she was born and raised in Michigan before moving to Lemont. She began playing badminton in third grade but didn’t start training seriously until two years ago under noted club coach Ilian Perez at Midwest Badminton, which is owned by her uncle, Thomas Chen.
Because Lemont doesn’t offer badminton, Yang enrolled at Hinsdale South, which has a large population of hearing-impaired students. She said being deaf is not an impediment to success.
“I’m always very strong and confident in myself and I try to show them that deaf people can do anything,” Yang said. “Competition is so much fun. I love it.”
While Yang has had success in junior national tournaments, the high school scene is different. Only 4-11, she will face stiff competition from older and physically stronger girls.
But Charters is confident Yang will be up to the task, noting that Yang is just the third freshman to play varsity at Hinsdale South. The others were two-time state champion Carissa Niemann and Emma Adcock, who won a state title in doubles in 2012 and was second in singles in 2013. Yang has beaten Adcock.
“I think the thing that Judy lacks right now versus Erin or Linda French or Carissa is [size],” Charters said. “But she’s quicker and so I think that will be to her advantage because she can cover things so much better than some of those other girls. She’s got to use that to her advantage.”
Because she can’t hear, Yang uses other methods to fit in and learn.
“She’s got great vision and she can see something and imitate it instantly,” Charters said. “For example, we were just [weightlifting] and Laura wasn’t there yet. We were going through some of our lifting and all I had to do was imitate and boom, she picked it up.
“It’s a great example of someone relying on their other senses. She’s a master at it – translating what she sees into kinetically doing it.”
Yang also has had no problem adjusting to her teammates, who are learning from Yang while showing her the ropes.
“So far she seems to be fitting in well,” senior Olivia LaPlante said. “I try to communicate with her even though I don’t know sign language. She likes to hang around with me and I encourage her to.
“Although she’s played at a national level, she’s kind of learning what it means to play on our team, just really bonding with people who haven’t been competing on her level.”
Though surprised by her success, Yang knows what her strengths are.
“I can really fight,” she said. “I never give up.”