When the 21 athletes from Fort St. John and the surrounding area begin competing at the 2020 B.C. Winter Games just over a week from now, five of them will be competing in badminton.
Fort St. John isn’t known for being a badminton town. The five athletes are the most ever to compete at the B.C. Winter Games in the sport, and they make up the majority of the eight-person team from Zone 8 headed to the Games (the other three players live in Prince George).
“We are so excited about the Winter Games. Our goal is to win a medal, and make history for Fort St. John,” said Fort St. John Badminton Club Coach Rishav Sharma, who’ll be an assistant coach at the Winter Games for Zone 8 as well..
Dyson Felix and Landon Bruvold will compete for the boys side, while Rilyn Clement, Paige McPherson and Quinelle Pereira round out the team on the girls side. Each player will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
While each of these athletes had experience playing badminton in school at some point, only Felix and Pereira played competitively last year. That’s because there wasn’t anywhere for kids in town to play badminton outside of the short badminton season in school.
Sharma started the club in September with hopes of drumming up interest in the sport, and possibly taking an athlete or two to the B.C. Winter Games. He expected five or six kids would join the club at most. Instead, 30 kids signed up between the two age groups.
“I’ve always loved badminton, and when I saw there was an opportunity to play more I jumped right in,” said Clement. “It’s really cool to see all the kids come each week to practice and represent our zone.
The players are excited about the opportunity in front of them, but admit it’s something they haven’t experienced before.
“I’m really excited that we’ll get to play in Fort St. John, but it’s a bit nerve-wracking to be playing really good badminton players,” said McPherson.
The team trusts its coach and each other, and has been a fun experience that none of them realized they were missing out on.
"It's been really fun. It was rough to start the year, but I've really improved as the year went along," McPherson said. "(Sharma) is a great coach and really helpful."
The club practices two nights a week at the Bert Ambrose gym, with the Winter Games players practicing three nights a week leading up to the competition.
Whatever happens, Sharma is happy that people can see badminton can work in Fort St. John.
"The players are naturals, who just needed a bit more practice and direction. I just want them to keep practicing and keep improving," said Sharma.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.