Junior wins two badminton Pan Am championships


Courtesy of Neil Ganguly

Neil Ganguly aiming for a birdie during an open regional tournament at Shannon Pohl training academy

Claire Yung, Profiles Editor & Social Media Editor

Naperville Central junior Neil Ganguly has been playing badminton for nine years. While COVID-19 has affected the available junior tournaments for him to play, however, he was able to attend the Junior Nationals in North Carolina from June 22-27 and the Pan Am Junior Championships in Mexico from July 19-23. 

In order to play in the Pan Am Junior Championship, Ganguly had to finish in the top two or four based on the event at the Junior Nationals. This past summer was his second time qualifying for Pan Am, and this year he received a gold medal in both events he participated in, mixed doubles and men’s doubles in the under 17 age group. 

“I think it’s a really cool experience to play against other countries and represent your country,” Ganguly said. “You get to go and hang out with friends from all over the country and play against really good players from other countries. I think you can gain a lot of experience from it because people from other countries play differently than people from your own. Everyone has their different styles.”

Ganguly was first introduced to badminton by his parents, Amit and Soumitraa Ganguly when they lived in India for the first eight years of his life. They are two people Ganguly’s main coach Ilian Berez credits as an important part of Ganguly’s journey as a player. 

“It’s one of the biggest sports [in India and at] first I didn’t even know what it was,” Ganguly said. “But my parents got me to play badminton, and I just really enjoyed it because it appealed to me as a 6-year-old who only wanted to jump around.” 

Berez has been Ganguly’s coach since he was around seven years old, and he said that over the years Ganguly became more social and open.

“In the beginning when he started training badminton, my sense was he was very timid and didn’t talk much,” Berez said. “He was always very quiet but something impressed me from the beginning. He was very disciplined. Everything I asked him to do, he would always follow. I believe he’s who he is right now because he’s disciplined.”

Ganguly played at Midwest Badminton Club until a year ago, when he moved to Egret Badminton Club, both of which are in Naperville. Ganguly’s mixed doubles partner Andrea Li also plays at Egret and his doubles partner Michael Xu plays at Boston Badminton in Massachusetts.

Usually Ganguly tries to practice at least 20 hours a week or more. However, as a junior preparing for standardized tests and taking advanced placement classes sometimes the amount of time he practices decreases.

“I used to not be able to manage my time well [and] I would sometimes have to spend late hours doing homework because of unwise time management,” Ganguly said. “So I had to learn to more efficiently manage my time and sometimes I have to cut down on my badminton, because I know that for me, badminton’s important but I’m probably not going to be like a professional badminton player in the future, so sometimes I have to sacrifice my badminton time.” 

Travelling for tournaments helps motivate Ganguly to keep practicing and playing over the years. He won his first tournament after around 4 years since he started.

“It felt like I had worked really hard and then I finally won a tournament,” Ganguly said. “It felt like a really big moment for me and it really inspired me to keep working harder so I could keep winning more tournaments. I was really proud of my achievements.”

Ganguly is interested in attending college after high school and majoring in computer science. While he does not currently have plans to go into badminton professionally, he wants to continue playing in college and beyond. 

“It’s just an essential part of my life. I can’t live without it,” Ganguly said. “It’s more than just an activity to me, it’s a pretty big part of my life and I’m going to try to not give it up even when I go to college. I’m going to try to keep playing badminton for my whole life.”