Summer’s a dead season for many sports fans. The NBA season will have wrapped up shortly. Major League Baseball’s 162-game schedule seems more tedious to some than pure sports spectacle. And golf is really no more than an on-again-off-again holdover on Sundays until the NFL returns in the fall.
But for alumnus Sears Bugg, summer’s the time of year where he turns up the training that has netted him the honor of being one of North Carolina’s best badminton players.
Bugg won a gold medal at the 2013 North Carolina Senior Games last September and is currently the state’s top male player in the age bracket of 55-59. And although he’ll miss the chance to defend his title at this year’s games in September due to a registration mix-up, he’s already training for his return to competition in 2015.
“I try to play twice a week,” he says. “Badminton’s fast and keeps you in shape. We play a power game. My brother and I love to slam. It won’t hurt the other person. If you hit it hard, it’ll stay on the court.”
A graduate with an agriculture economics degree in 1976, Bugg split time between classrooms and fierce hardcourts of Wolfpack club sports. He was the president of the NC State badminton club his senior year and led his dorm to a badminton championship.He took his talents to Duke, where he earned an M.B.A in 1981 and he reached the apex of Blue Devil badminton stardom until he was supplanted by a surprise player. “I was the number-one player on the team,” he says. “Out of the blue, we had a tournament to see who was the best player on campus. And this soccer player ran me all over the court. I’ve never seen him before or since.”
And he adds that his brother, Smitty, who graduated from NC State in 1977, also took to the sport on campus, even helping to teach it to physical education classes for enjoyment with an ulterior motive. “This was the mid-1970s,” Bugg says. “There was not really many women on campus. My brother wanted to meet someone, so he started teaching badminton. He met his future wife there.”
Badminton was just one sport loved by Bugg, who operated his family’s trucking business for 25 years before retiring and becoming a fee-only financial planner. There was golf, swimming and tennis. The Warrenton, N.C., native says it was his mother who first instilled that love of competition in her sons when they were kids. “My mother was athletic. So she was good about teaching us to play different sports,” Bugg says. “She believed in lifetime sports. And NC State was real good about teaching those same sports in physical education classes in those days.”
Bugg turns 60 next year and will have to enter a new age bracket when he returns to the Senior Games. But he feels he can once again be number-one.
That is if his playing partner stays healthy and Bugg can stay focused on badminton. “Have you heard of pickle ball?” he asks excitedly. “It’s a fast growing racquet sport. You take a badminton court and lower the net to about tennis level. And they use a wiffle ball and oversized ping-pong paddles. If my partner’s legs give out, I’ll be making the switch to pickle ball.”