SUDBURY – Incoming Cambrian College students aspiring to develop further in the sport of badminton have been spoiled - for quite some time, really.
Through two decades of success, the team has been largely guided by a few of the best coaches in the country. The tenure of OCAA Hall of Famer Rob McCann is unparalleled in the college ranks, having guided his team to seven consecutive provincial championships.
These days, the baton has been passed to Timmins native Donald Legendre, one of the best players the north has ever produced. Born and raised in Timmins, Legendre was a typical multi-sport athlete upon entering grade nine at Timmins High & Vocational School, though he cites tennis as his first serious sport.
“My brother (Dominic) played badminton, I was more into basketball,” said Legendre. “I joined the badminton team because my brother was on it.” Unfortunately, or perhaps quite fortunately, the younger sibling also had natural talent.
“The way I hit the bird, the way I was moving on the court - the footwork and skills were just natural for me because of tennis,” said Legendre. That would lead to a decision to be made, as time would not permit the youngster to devote himself fully to both basketball and badminton.
“At first, I was just playing (badminton) for fun,” he stated. “I got better and better, more competitive with my brother, but all the ‘A’ players on our team wouldn't play me because I wasn't good enough.
“That’s what motivated me, that rejection from the higher level players,” Legendre continued. “Within four months, I ended up beating them.” It was the start of a very rapid progression, one that would see the up and coming talent ascend all the way to an OFSAA gold medal, all while working his way through the junior ranks to compete with the Canadian elite.
Tennis had served him well (pardon the pun). “It's a different stroke,” explained Legendre. “Badminton is above shoulders and tennis is sideways. But the timing of hitting a ball and the timing of hitting a bird is the same thing.”
Tutored by legendary TH&VS coach Frank Belanger – “the best coach I ever had,” according to Legendre - the now 41 year old father of two developed to the point of needing to branch out, to take his game to another level.
He would head south, training at ‘A’ camps in Toronto and Port Colburne, moving on to workout, with his brother, at a national training facility in Ottawa. Success had followed Legendre through the high school ranks, on to collegiate competition.
Representing Northern College, he won gold in the men's singles event in 1992, duplicating the feat at Canadore (North Bay) four years later. His play would earn him an invitation to train in Calgary with the selection camp of the 1996 Canadian Olympic badminton team.
Sadly, his dream was derailed in an instant. A police chase on a snowy winter's evening in Timmins hurled a suspect's car directly into the path of the vehicle driven by the unsuspecting Legendre, who remembers little of the accident, other than waking up in the ambulance.
And while he says that he never fully recovered to become the player he was prior to that fateful night, his accomplishments are nothing short of remarkable. “The doctor said that I would never be able to play sports again,” recalled Legendre.
“I wanted to prove him wrong,” he added. “It was different after the accident. Instead of conditioning, attacking and skill, it became more about strategy, the mental game, figuring out the other person's weaknesses.”
Little surprise that he would migrate to coaching. “My knowledge of the game, the experience of different styles of coaching that I had, understanding the talent that is out there – a lot of my background helps me have confidence in my coaching,” stated Legendre.
It's knowledge he loves to share, even as his daughters, Olivia and Ella, just start down the path where badminton leads them. And knowledge that spoils those select few who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the Cambrian varsity badminton environment.
– 30 –