At the BinTang Badminton facility in Burlingame, three very impressive young women play a special exhibition game. Kalea Sheung, Katelin Ngo and Kelly Yau have known each other from years of playing badminton at the highest levels.
Kalea, for example, has been playing at a deep age of 17 for more than a decade, since he was 6 years old. She knew badminton was in her blood when she started playing with her brother.
“They competed and toured places and pretty much chased their dreams,” says her mother Mona Sheung.
Katelin Ngo is also a badminton phenomenon who told ABC7: “I played doubles in the selection trials and won first place!”
Kalea and Katelin recently qualified to represent the U.S. team in Chengdu, China at the World University Games. It is a sporting event so prestigious that it is described as the second after the Olympic Games.
“For me, it’s a really big deal,” Kalea shines. The Games have been postponed to 2023 and while there is no guarantee that she will continue to go next year, it is still exciting to qualify.
Friend Kelly says she has “represented Panama for almost a decade” at various tournaments and games. She wanted to join the training because of a special guest.
Tony Gemignani joins. He himself was once a badminton champion, although almost 30 years ago.
“I was number one mixed doubles, number one doubles, singles. I played second, junior and senior in high school, a little after high school, but honestly I haven’t played 29 years since I graduated in 1991.” Tony smiled.
After learning about Kale’s trip to the games and fundraising of other young people from the Bay Area, Tony was so inspired that he offered to help raise funds in his own way.
Money explains why there are so many challenges in funding sports. “As a sport it’s not as popular as other sports,” she says behind the counter at Bintang, where she works part-time.
Because of Tony’s offer to help them, Kalea, Kaitlin and Kelly wanted to help Tony in his game. It is a journey of the full circle, one that may bring communities together.
“Honestly, I was one of the few white guys in the league because they dominated, it was an Asian sport. I was a minority, they were always welcome. It’s one of those things, if you love what you do, for who cares what people are they talking? ” says Tony.
This story does not end in the courts. It continues in San Francisco, at Tony’s Pizza Restaurant in North Beach, Italy’s San Francisco district. This is the perfect place to illustrate how he is a champion of another kind.
Tony can not only be considered the KING of pizza, with more than 30 restaurants across the country, but he is also a 13-time world pizza champion.
He shows off his talent for Mona and young women as the holder of the Guinness World Record for rolling the largest pizza dough and throwing a circle over his shoulder and between his legs as if he were a Harlem Globetrotters basketball.
In addition to the fun, Tony presents a special pizza he invented and which will be put on the menu all month in May, and is dedicated to badminton qualifications, and the proceeds go to their badminton trip.
“I’m going to show them how to make pizza, and we at Tony’s are going to dedicate a really amazing Asian Italian fusion pizza and it’s going to be great,” he says behind the counter of his restaurant.
Appropriately named Panda Pie, the pizza is an ode to the place where the games will be held and contains local Asian ingredients.
“The first thing I thought of was lap cheong, a Chinese dried sausage. George Chen, a famous chef in Chinatown, China Live, I went to him and said I wanted to take this and add hot pepper oil to it and add that Italian Chinese flavor for it.”
After gathering all the ingredients and learning a technique, Tony shows how flavors and cultures come together in 90 seconds for a big goal.
“It’s soft, it’s really a Neapolitan style of chewing, but a Californian, Italian, Chinese twist,” she says as Mona and the women bite. Kelly nods, as does Katelin. “It’s really good, it has a little spice with mixed honey.” Katelin calls it “amazing.”
The trio of friends in badminton then re-use their teamwork to try their hand at making Panda Pie, which looks easier than it actually is. Young women laugh that maneuvering a pie with a giant pizza crust is not as easy as handling a badminton racket.
Kalea sums up what it means for her, that someone so seemingly randomly cares about their quest for success in badminton. “It’s a big part of OUR lives, and the fact that Tony wants to support us in sports is obviously a big thing for the community, not just for me.”
Tony says that thanks to this casual match and meeting with the women he will take his racket again and start playing again.
Panda pie is also available at Tony’s restaurant in North Beach just for dinner until the end of the month. All proceeds will go to group fundraising for the Bay Area Qualifiers for the World University Games. While there is no guarantee that they will be able to play in 2023 when the games resume, funding will allow these young people to travel and play in other tournaments around the world.
Mona too set up GoFundMe help their efforts.
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