With a flick of his wrist, Karan Chahal snaps a birdie nearly 20 feet to the furthest corner of the badminton court. His opponent, Andrew Gu, leaps to return it – and when he does – Chahal places his next shot low and close to the net.
The boys are at war, reacting to shots at light speed and punishing their opponents with smashes, slices, and drop-shots.
Both are fluid and precise, but in the end, Chahal gets the better of Gu – cementing himself as a provincial champion.
On Saturday, the Grade 12 student from Secondcole Secondaire Sisler High School placed first in the Varsity Boys Singles category during the Manitoba High School Athletic Association’s provincial badminton championships.
“I wanted to do my best, no matter if I lost or won – I did that, and I won,” Chahal told the Free Press. “This is my last year. I wanted to show everyone what I can do the abilities that I have. ”
Chahal was one of the hundreds of competitors who displayed their talent at the event, which started on May 5 and ended Saturday evening. It was MHSAA’s first provincial badminton event since COVID-19 struck in 2019.
“This is a chance (for competitors) to represent their school and build upon that pride in their school and communities,” said Greg Jarvis, MHSAA assistant executive director. “It’s just exciting to have sports back.”
More than 500 athletes from 96 Manitoban schools competed this year. For the first time, the MHSAA hosted the junior varsity and varsity championships as one event, making it the largest high school provincial badminton tournament in MHSAA history, Jarvis said.
Competitors traveled from as far as Thompson and Gillam, so combining the competitions allowed schools to share resources while saving time and money, Jarvis said.
Prairie Badminton in the St. Boniface Industrial Park served as the venue, giving the MHSAA full access to eight courts and space for spectators.
It was a full house on Saturday, with hundreds of friends, family members, and coaches crowding the playing area and cheering players on.
On Friday, the tournament faced delays after unexpected power outages prevented players from taking to the court.
The outages sent MHSAA scrambling to find auxiliary gyms to host matches on Friday. The trouble delayed the tournament by roughly two hours and forced organizers to push the JV finals matches to Saturday morning, Jarvis said.
Manitoba Hydro later announced online that a pair of downed powerlines caused the loss of electricity.
Typically, the MHSAA hosts the championship in regional schools. This year was the first time it took place within a professional badminton club, said Rene Comeault, provincial badminton convenor and Stonewall Collegiate teacher.
“We really wanted to do something special for the kids in terms of the badminton experience, and we knew that this facility was going to be an eye-opener for them,” he said.
Comeault has been involved with badminton for most of his 34-year career, he said.
He described it as an accessible sport in which technique can trump size, stature, and athleticism.
For some, this year’s provincial championship was their first taste of competition, but others – like Serenity Poirier – know the feeling well.
The Grade 12 student from Lac du Bonnet Senior School walked away with gold in the Varsity Girls Singles category.
“I’m feeling good. I wanted to finish my final year of high school badminton with a win, so I am very proud of that, ”she said.
Poirier gave up only one set during the tournament, and it was the first loss of her high school career.
“It’s not the end of the world. We can’t all be perfect, even top players aren’t all perfect, and that girl, she played really well, “Poirier said.
Poirier and Chahal both intend to keep playing competitive badminton, they said.
Chalal plans to study law and train in the United Kingdom after graduation, while Poirier intends to take business classes at the University of Manitoba. She hopes to one day earn a spot on Canada’s national team.