With a flick of his wrist, Karan Chahal snatches a birdie nearly 20 feet to the far corner of the badminton court. His opponent, Andrew Gu, jumps 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 lightning speed and punishing their opponent with smashes, slices and drop shots.
Both are fluid and accurate, but in the end Chahal gains the upper hand over Gu – cementing himself as the provincial champion.
On Saturday, the 12th grader from École Secondaire Sisler High School took first place in the varsity boys singles category during the Manitoba High School Athletic Association badminton championships.
“I wanted to do my best, whether I lost or won – I did that and I won,” said Chahal free press. “This is my last year. I wanted to show everyone what I can do – the skills I have.”
Chahal was one of hundreds of contestants who showed off their talents at the event, which began May 5 and ended Saturday night. It was the MHSAA’s first badminton event in the province since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019.
“This is an opportunity (for participants) to represent their school and build on that pride in their school and their communities,” said Greg Jarvis, associate executive director of MHSAA. “It’s just exciting to have sports again.”
This year more than 500 athletes from 96 Manitoban schools participated. For the first time, MHSAA held 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 Thompson and Gillam, so combining the competitions allowed the schools to share resources while saving time and money, Jarvis said.
Prairie Badminton at St. Boniface Industrial Park served as the venue, giving the MHSAA unrestricted access to eight courts and spectator space.
It was a full house on Saturday, with hundreds of friends, family and coaches crowding the pitch and cheering on the players.
The tournament was delayed on Friday after unexpected power outages prevented players from going onto the pitch.
The outages caused the MHSAA to seek auxiliary gyms to host games on Friday. The troubles delayed the tournament by about two hours and forced organizers to move the JV finals to Saturday morning, Jarvis said.
Manitoba Hydro later announced online that two downed power lines caused the blackout.
Typically, the MHSAA hosts the championship in regional schools. This year marked the first time it has been held at a professional badminton club, said Rene Comeault, provincial badminton convenor and teacher at Stonewall Collegiate.
“We really wanted to do something special for the kids in terms of the badminton experience and we knew this facility would be an eye opener for them,” he said.
Comeault played badminton for most of his 34-year career, he said.
He described it as an accessible sport where technique can trump size, physique 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 Year 12 student at Lac du Bonnet Senior School walked away with Gold in the Varsity Girls Singles category.
“I’m feeling good. I wanted to finish my senior badminton year of high school with a win and I’m very proud of that,” she said.
Poirier gave up just 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 this girl played really well,” said Poirier.
Poirier and Chahal both intend to continue playing badminton, they said.
After graduating, Chalal plans to go to law school and pursue an education in the UK, while Poirier plans to pursue business courses at the University of Manitoba. She hopes to one day get a spot on the Canada national team.