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Jr. badminton club grows, but tradition continues

By: Randy Pascal – Playback

 | May 01, 2014 - 3:55 PM |
For dedicated badminton players like Ashlyn Low (left), Caleb Parfitt, Will Hausenblas, Willem Agnihotri and Michelle Kozlowskyj, the Sudbury and District Jr. Badminton Club is a godsend for their games. Photo by Randy Pascal

For dedicated badminton players like Ashlyn Low (left), Caleb Parfitt, Will Hausenblas, Willem Agnihotri and Michelle Kozlowskyj, the Sudbury and District Jr. Badminton Club is a godsend for their games. Photo by Randy Pascal

For years, nay decades, the name of Clyde Sheppard was synonymous with the Sudbury and District Jr. Badminton Club, a group that has produced some of the most elite high school players in the city over time.

So synonymous in fact, when Clyde and his wife, Gundi, decided to step back from the scene a couple of years ago, there was a very real chance the club might not survive.

Enter St. Benedict teacher Troy Brushett, a 31-year-old Petawawa native, who first set foot in Sudbury some six years ago when he interviewed for a job at the South End school.

But running a club is hardly a solo effort, even in a sport that is often bypassed in publicity by more mainstream athletic activities. The likes of Carol Agnihotri, Jim Duff and Pearl Duff (no relation) all jumped on board.

Easing the scheduling of the twice weekly practices for Brushett, the group moved from the Sheppards' old stomping grounds at Lasalle Secondary across town to St Benedict.

"When we brought the grade 7s and 8s into St. Benedict and increased the size of our gyms, we were able to hold nine badminton courts as opposed to six," Brushett said. "In my opinion, it's the nicest place to play badminton in the city.

"Nice high ceilings, lots of space around the courts — it's great for tournaments."

Increasing their membership from roughly 25 members in 2012-2013 to 45 or so this year, and adding a younger base that now finds half of those attending practice sessions not yet of high school age (the youngest participants are just 10 years old), the Jr Badminton Club is making progress.

For the likes of two-time city champion Ashlyn Low of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary, the group is a godsend. Introduced to the sport while growing up in Singapore, it was in Grade 10, when she combined her Lo-Ellen Park Secondary badminton experience with her competitive pursuit of the sport, that Low really started to reach her potential.

"I was basically just hitting to hit," she said. “Let's be honest — I was starting from scratch. I joined the club in Grade 10 and have improved in leaps and bounds since being here."

Part of that improvement comes, quite naturally, from simply facing better competition. Add in the exposure to top-end provincial talent that comes part and parcel of competing at the 2014 Ontario Winter Games or the 2013 OFSAA Badminton Championships, and you have the makings of a much better player.

For coaches and players, the club provides that additional one-on-one work that can really see a player improve.

"You get some natural athletes that do all right when badminton season comes around," Brushett said. "But that one- to three-month school season really doesn't give you a lot of time to focus on learning where to place your shots, where to be on the court."

Late this week, a quartet of SDSSAA athletes will represent local hopes at the 2014 OFSAA Badminton Championships in Markham. Few eyebrows should be raised by the fact that all four (Low, Michelle Kozlowskyj and the mixed doubles team of Barbeau and Willem Agnihotri) are all mainstays at the Jr Club practices.

The tradition lives on.

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