SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- This AAPI Heritage Month, an unlikely matchup between people from two different generations and communities is happening in the Bay Area -- all because of a love of badminton... and pizza!
At BinTang Badminton facility in Burlingame, a special exhibition game is being played by three very impressive young women. Kalea Sheung, Katelin Ngo and Kelly Yau all know each other from years of badminton play at the highest levels.
Kalea, for example, at the ripe old age of 17 has been playing for over a decade, since she was 6. She knew badminton was in her blood when she started playing with her brother.
"They've been competing and going places and chasing their dreams pretty much," says her mother, Mona Sheung.
Katelin Ngo is also a badminton phenom who told ABC7, "At selection trials, I played doubles and won first place!"
Kalea and Katelin recently qualified to represent Team USA in Chengdu China for the World University Games. It's a sporting event so prestigious, it's been described as second only to the Olympics.
"It's a really big deal for me actually," beams Kalea. The games have been postponed to 2023 and while there is no guarantee she'll still go next year, it's exciting to qualify nonetheless.
Friend Kelly says she has "been representing Panama for almost a decade" in various tournaments and games. She wanted to join in on practice because of a special guest.
Tony Gemignani is joining in. He himself was once was a badminton champ, albeit nearly 30 years ago.
"I was number one mixed doubles, number one doubles, singles. In high school, I played sophomore, junior, and senior year, a little after high school, but honestly I haven't played in 29 years since I graduated in 1991," smiles Tony.
Upon learning about Kalea's journey to the games and the fundraising efforts of other young people from the Bay Area, Tony was so inspired he offered to help fundraise in his own way.
Money explains why there are so many challenges funding the sport. "As a sport it's not very popular like other sports," she says from 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 with his game. It's a full-circle journey, one that perhaps brings communities together.
"Honestly, I was one of the only white guys in the league because they dominated, it was an Asian sport. I was the minority, they've always been welcoming. It's one of those things, if you like what you do, do it. Who cares what people say?" says Tony.
This story doesn't end on the courts. It continues in San Francisco, at Tony's pizza restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood. This is the perfect place to illustrate how he is a champion of a different kind.
Tony not only could be considered the KING of pizza, with more than 30 eateries across the country, he also is a 13-time World Pizza Champion.
He showcases his talent for Mona and the young women as the Guinness World Record holder for spinning the largest pizza dough and flings the round across his shoulders and in between his legs as if it were a Harlem Globetrotters basketball.
Along with the fun, Tony is unveiling a special pizza he invented that'll be put on the menu the entire month of May, dedicated to the badminton qualifiers with proceeds going toward their badminton journey.
"I'll show them how to make pizza and we'll dedicate a really amazing Asian Italian fusion pizza at Tony's and it's going to be awesome," he says behind the counter of his restaurant.
Aptly named Panda Pie, the pizza is an ode to where the games will be held and features local Asian ingredients.
"The first thing I thought of was lap cheong, a Chinese cured sausage. George Chen, a famous chef in Chinatown, China Live, I went to him and said I want to get this and add my hot pepper oil to it and add that Italian Chinese kind of flair to it."
After gathering all the ingredients and a lesson in technique, Tony shows how in 90 seconds, a melding of flavors and cultures combine for a great cause.
"It's soft, it's a really chewy Neapolitan style but California, Italian, Chinese twist," he says as Mona and the women take a bite. Kelly nods her head, as does Katelin. "It's really good, it's got a little bit of spice with honey mixed together." Katelin calls it "amazing."
The trio of badminton friends then use their teamwork again to try their hand at making a Panda Pie, which looks easier than it really is. The young women laugh at how maneuvering the pie with the giant pizza peel is not as simple as wielding a badminton racquet.
Kalea sums up what it means to her, having someone so seemingly random care about their quest for badminton success. "It's a big part of OUR lives and for Tony to be so willing to support us in the sport obviously it's a big deal for the community, not just for myself."
Tony says thanks to this casual match-up and meeting the women, he's going to pick up his racquet again and start playing once more.
The Panda Pie is also available at Tony's restaurant in North Beach for dine-in only until the end of the month. All proceeds will go toward a group fundraiser to give the Bay Area qualifiers of the World University Games. While there is no guarantee they'll 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 also set up a GoFundMe to help their efforts.
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