As the Fort Frances Badminton Club held its annual windup Monday night, co-founder Lawrence Alexander had a chance to reflect on the past season.
And he was very impressed with the results.
In just three seasons, the local club has gone from a program that taught just the most basic skills to one now producing players who can compete at the provincial level.
In fact, eight local junior players and three seniors currently are ranked provincially in Manitoba.
The club is now starting to see the fruits of many hours of hard work on the court by players and coaches alike.
“For years we never had a club, and it was a dream of mine and my wife, Manami, for a number of years because we coached at the high school,” Alexander said.
“But our players couldn’t compete at the NWOSSAA level,” he recalled. “We always had to teach the basics in a short period of time.”
Alexander credited the club’s coaching staff as being a large part of the kids’ success.
“I think the key is that our coaches are formally trained and the kids just love the sport,” he noted. “It’s a great sport for the kids and it’s just taken off.”
Alexander said they teach a wide range of techniques and strategies based on the players’ abilities or interests. And it’s that flexibility which keeps them wanting to come to the gym each week.
“We teach the very basic, from holding a racquet to footwork, and we have players from competitive to recreational,” Alexander noted. “[But] we don’t put the competitive players on any pedestal higher [than the recreational ones].”
Simone Desjardins, ranked 34th in Manitoba, is the top local junior girls’ player. Her highlights this season included capturing the bronze medal in the girls’ under-12 division at the Manitoba Junior Open provincial championships earlier this year in Winnipeg.
She also teamed up with her sister, Natalie, to win silver in the doubles event there.
Sitting in a logjam just a few spots behind Desjardins are local players Kate Basaraba, Sarah Paterson, and Jennifer Lawson, who sit 40th, 41st, and 42nd respectively.
Behind them are Janna Kennedy (54th) and Natalie Desjardins (55th).
Among the junior boys, Adrian Bondett is ranked 74th in Manitoba while Derek Allen sits in 103rd spot.
Bondett captured NorWOSSA gold earlier this year, then went undefeated at the NWOSSAA tournament (although no medals were awarded for junior players at that level).
Katie Vittie, another Muskie standout, also captured gold at NorWOSSA and NWOSSAA to advance to the all-Ontarios. She is currently ranked 45th in Manitoba in the ladies’ division.
On the senior circuit, Manami Alexander currently is ranked 12th in Manitoba, based primarily on by her silver-medal performance in the ladies’ singles division at the ‘B’ level during the Manitoba championships.
(The ‘A’ level is designated for top players vying for spots on the Olympic, Pan American, and national teams).
Alexander also won the gold medal after teaming up with Mike Dubois of Winnipeg in the mixed doubles (‘B’ division), and placed second at the WWC Invitational Black Knight B/C tournament in Winnipeg.
She also competed on the Manitoba Pro Series.
At that same competition, Alexander teamed up with Derrick Pruys to win the ‘B’ consolation in the mixed doubles event. Pruys also is ranked provincially (currently sitting at 130th).
Lawrence Alexander said while those rankings are impressive, he felt strongly that local club members could be placed even higher if they attended more tournaments in Manitoba.
For instance, several of the junior rankings were based on the results of just one tournament, which results in a lower ranking. So he expects his players will be even better next year.
“Badminton is a sport in which players peak at a very young age,” said Alexander. “And we’ve had good support from the parents, and what I think has really helped is the kids have perceived it to be a real sport.
“That has been one of the keys,” he stressed.