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Aboriginal Badminton Championships Expand Athletic Opportunities

First Aboriginal Badminton Championships a success
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Though the number of entrants was lower than originally anticipated, organizers are still deeming the inaugural Canadian Aboriginal Badminton Championships a success.

The meet, held in Saskatoon from July 5–9, attracted 102 competitors.

The event featured four youth age categories; under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-18. And there was also a division for adults, 19 and over. Each grouping featured female and male singles and doubles play as well as mixed doubles action.

At one point organizers had expected to draw 300 to 400 participants.

"For our first year we were happy with the numbers," said tournament director Mark Arcand. "It was a great event. And word of this is going to spread."

The event was hosted by the Saskatoon Tribal Council in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Badminton Association.

Arcand felt there was a need for a national aboriginal badminton meet in part because the sport has traditionally had the most participants during recent Saskatchewan First Nations Winter Games, which are held every two years. Those games usually attract about 300 players.

"We wanted to give kids the chance to participate in a national event," Arcand added. "If you're playing a team sport it can be pretty hard to advance to a national championship. By having this event we gave people the opportunity to become a national champion."

The plan is to stage the Canadian aboriginal tournament each year. Next year's will also be in Saskatoon, July 2–7.

"We're hoping to at least double our numbers," Arcand said.

Organizers are also hoping to draw participants from more parts of the country. This year's tournament included competitors from just four provinces—Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec. Arcand said officials from Canada's most easterly province, Newfoundland, have expressed some interest in sending athletes to the 2012 tournament. And so too have reps from a pair of Canadian territories, Nunavut and the Yukon.

"We're hoping to gain some other provinces as well," he added.

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Organizers, at least at this point, also have no desire to move it to various locations across Canada.

"We're the ones who originated it," Arcand said, "and we want to keep hosting it in Saskatoon."

He believes some athletes from various parts of the country might be turned off by the plan to stage the tournament in the same city each year.

"But in Canada we're probably the most central area," Arcand said.

Athletes who were registered for this year's tournament were also able to take advantage of some free workshops the day before the championships began.

Three members of the Canadian national badminton team as well as a coach provided on-court sessions. Workshops were also given on mental and nutritional training.

Arcand believes another reason the first national tournament was also successful because of the prizes awarded. Instead of receiving medals, all champions took home a plaque as well as a coveted hoodie touting their victory. And all finalists were presented with long-sleeve T-shirts, also proclaiming their accomplishment.

"You should have seen the kids when they won, they put on their hoodie or T-shirt right away," Arcand said. "That was better than getting just a medal that they were probably going to put away somewhere."

All participants at the nationals had some badminton experience. In order to compete in the Canadian championships, athletes had to be registered with their provincial badminton sports governing association.

At this point there are no First Nations players in Canada with a national ranking of note in any age group. Arcand is hoping that will soon change.

The 2013 Canadian badminton championships will be staged in Saskatoon. Arcand hopes that event will include some aboriginal athletes.

"We're encouraging kids from our event to try and qualify for that," he said.