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Two-time gold medalist credits Penn Yan gym teacher for love of badminton | Sports | #teacher | #children | #kids

PENN YAN — When Dan Rector looks at his two gold medals from the Empire State Senior Games he can’t help but think of Ambrose “Amby” Cook, a legendary physical education teacher and coach at Penn Yan Academy.

“I first took up badminton in gym class at PYA. I remember watching Mr. Cook, thinking how good he was,” Rector said. “Nobody could beat him. I learned from him for a couple of years, really watching how he — as a 60-year-old — could easily wear out all his teenage students. It took me two or three years to figure him out.”

That time came in 1980, Rector’s junior year at PYA. He finally beat Cook and later teamed with classmate Roger Brow to win the Section V doubles title.

“I remember that Mr. Cook was a lefty. He was all finesse and controlled the entire game,” Rector added. “It’s funny. Once I beat him for the first time he wanted an immediate rematch. I said, ‘Mr. Cook, I need to get to my next class,’ and he said, ‘I will write you a pass.’ “

During Rector’s senior year, 1981, he had designs on playing for a sectional title in singles. A PYA exchange student from Sweden, Claes Hagglof, had other ideas.

“We had some good battles, but he beat me out for singles,” Rector said. “That meant Roger and I went and defended our doubles title.”

Fast forward 38 years. While he had played the sport briefly in the late 1980s, in 2019 Rector was living in the Monroe County town of Webster when he found out — by chance — that a group had been playing badminton for years in a former Xerox building turned rec center.

“I moved to Webster in 1997 and didn’t find out about this place until 2019,” he said. “This was also a time that I was getting far too close to 200 pounds, a weight I never wanted to see. I like to eat, so I thought, ‘What can I do to drop a few pounds?’”

The answer was a return to badminton. The payoff from a health perspective was almost immediate.

“I stepped on the scale one day and said, ‘Wow, I lost five pounds.’ A little while later it was 10 pounds,” he said. “Within a year of playing again, I was down 35 pounds and playing better than ever thanks to a great group of people here in Webster.”

Rector used that newfound fitness to enter the recent senior games in Cortland, winning Gold in singles and doubles. That qualified him for next year’s National Senior Games in Pittsburgh.

Rector, who played on PYA’s tennis team for several years, has always been drawn to “racket sports.” One of his new favorites is pickleball.

“I thought I would give this goofy sport a try, which is sweeping the nation,” he said. “It is pretty addicting. It has to be for me to get up before 6 a.m. to play before work.”

To help keep the weight off, Rector is also an avid golfer who tries to walk nine holes every day after work, weather permitting. He played 125 rounds during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rector is looking forward to next year’s National Senior Games.

“It will be interesting to see how I stack up on the national stage,” he said. “And how old will I be then? Sixty. Thank you, Mr. Cook.”

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