Garden Grove’s Wook Kim, is undoubtedly the best boys’ badminton player in Orange County. And his selection as player of the year by the Southern California Badminton Assn. and The Times Orange County shows his talent is acknowledged at all levels.
Despite losing in the Southern Section individual finals to Alta Loma’s Amarit Rojsirivit, who is unquestionably the top singles player in the section, Kim has earned everyone’s respect.
Three times this season, Kim faced Rojsirivit. And three times he was defeated. But the reason for the losses is not Kim’s lack of talent, but his lack of playing experience.
Kim, who moved with his family to Garden Grove from South Korea seven years ago, has only been playing badminton for four years. Rojsirivit has been playing for 10. Rojsirivit, who moved to the United States several years ago from Thailand, was a member of Thailand’s Junior National team. Kim became a member of Garden Grove’s varsity team midway through his freshman year.
“Wook is just as good of a player as Amarit,” Garden Grove Coach Vicki Toutz said. “Technically he is just as sound. He is just as strong and just as quick, but he just doesn’t have the experience.”
Kim finished the season 41-3, two of those losses to Rojsirivit, the other to Alhambra Mark Keppel’s Vincent Yeung. And this past weekend Kim faced Rojsirivit in the state prep all-star team championships. Rojsirivit won easily, 15-1, 15-7.
“He is a great player, but I could beat him,” Kim said. “I just need more time, more practice and experience. He has played for six more years than me. “
Kim’s badminton career began when a church friend got him to try out for Garden Grove’s team, and Kim immediately took to the game.
“It’s a power game,” Kim said. “You move around a lot and it’s quick. I just love it.”
But Kim also knows that in the United States, continuing a badminton career after high school is a longshot. It is the second-most popular sport worldwide, yet in the United States, most consider it a sport played in gym class.
“I’m going to play in the junior nationals this summer,” Kim said. “And also in a tournament in Seattle, but after that who knows.”
Right now, Kim, 18, has other things on his mind. He is graduating with a 3.8 grade-point average and will be attending Cal Poly Pomona to major in computer engineering. He also is president of his church group, works as a janitor, sings in the choir and plays volleyball and basketball.
“I like everything I do. It is all fun,” Kim said. “And being a janitor, I get money.”
But even when school is out, he still finds time to squeeze in badminton, even if it is only for 30 minutes hitting the shuttlecock off the wall of his house.
“He is the most dedicated player I have ever had,” Toutz said. “He is always improving his game. He is by far the best player I have ever coached. He is going to be missed.”
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* Boys’ singles: Wook Kim, Sr., Garden Grove
Highlight: Finalist in Southern Section individual championships. Eliminated in second round in mixed doubles with Cynthia Tran.
* Girls’ singles: Joyce Cabuhat, Sr., Magnolia
Highlight: Second consecutive player of year award. Lost only one match all season on the way to the individual singles title, 11-3, 11-9. Helped lead team to section semifinals.
* Boys’ doubles: Steve Lee, Sr. and Tuan Nguyen Sr., Loara
Highlight: Individual singles finalist, upsetting second-seeded team in semifinals. Helped lead Loara to team finals for second consecutive year.
* Girls’ doubles: Sharon Myung, Sr. and Nina Mai, Sr., Loara
Highlight: Individual quarterfinalist, eliminated by eventual champions, Sophy Chung and Sara Vang (LB Wilson).
* Mixed doubles: Tuan Nguyen, Sr., and Sharon Myung, Sr., Loara
Highlight: Individual champions with 15-10, 17-14 victory over West Covina’s Cong Phung and Tammy Phan.
* Boys’ singles: The Mai, Sr., Katella
Highlight: Individual quarterfinalist. Lost to finalist Kim, 15-3, 15-1.
* Girls’ singles: Melva Wong, Sr., Loara
Highlight: Individual semifinalist, losing to second-seeded Stella Ng (Alhambra), 11-5, 11-8. Scholar athlete of the year at Loara.
* Boys’ doubles: Trung Nguyen, Sr. and Phong Vo, Jr., Ocean View
Highlight: Individual semifinalist. Upset by Loara’s Lee and Nguyen, 15-8, 15-3. Led Ocean View to semifinals.
* Girls’ doubles: Cabuhat and Frances Uy, Sr., Magnolia
Highlight: Individual quarterfinalist. Lost to third-seeded team from Diamond Bar. Led Magnolia to team semifinals.
* Mixed doubles: Nguyen and Tien Le, Sr., Ocean View
Highlight: Individual semifinalists, losing in a tiebreaker to Phung and Phan (West Covina), 10-15, 15-7, 18-14.
Compiled by MELANIE NEFF