By Larry Moko
That was the story of the 2022 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic junior high school badminton championships.
Grade 9 and Grade 10 players from the host school of Cathedral captured four gold medals and one silver in the five divisions contested over two days on May 5 and 10th. Those first-place finishes came in boys’ singles, boys’ doubles, girls’ doubles and mixed doubles.
It was the first city junior finals in badminton since 2019 when Cathedral’s Gaels shared the team title with the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals.
This time the points gap between first-place Cathedral and second-place Tonnos was huge (34-11).
“Pretty impressive,” said Ken John who shares coaching duties at Cathedral with Jay Stokl. “It’s a result of all the hard work. We’ve been playing since November, once a week. I know a lot of other teams only started in the last few months.
“Many of our kids don’t have the funds or means to be part of rep sports and a whole lot of community sports events. We give them that opportunity. That’s why we started in November. It keeps them engaged.”
Participation hasn’t been a problem for Cathedral.
“We had as high as 118 people come out at a given practice,” John said. “That’s unheard of."
A former city and regional champion in the sport as a player, John represented Cathedral three times at OFSAA.
“We’ve got great kids who are enthusiastic and hard working,” he said. “We’re so proud of the whole team.”
In girls’ doubles, top honours went to twin sisters Keira and Nicole Daly who defeated Kiki Barbati and Sofia Bialach of the Bishop Tonnos Titans in the final. Earlier this season, that same sister duo led the Gaels to OFSAA gold in senior girls’ basketball.
Cathedral’s first-place finish in boys’ doubles was recorded by Maurice Mangmo and Kaziel Tamayo. They topped Newman’s Nathaniel Pavlic and Jozef Wrobel.
In mixed doubles, it was an all-Cathedral final with Aaron Daly and his cousin Rachel defeating Danny Do and Vanessa Merlos Gonzalez.
“I was just trying to have fun,” Aaron said, downplaying any suggestion it might have been important for bragging rights to match his older sisters’ earlier victory in girls’ doubles.
When asked about Cathedral’s team dominance, Aaron Daly said: “We all came to every practice and put in a lot of work. That’s kind of why. It showed.”
Filipe Santos accounted for Cathedral’s other title. In boys’ singles he topped runner-up Noah Palackan of Bishop Tonnos.
In girls’ singles, club player Leah Vadakken of Tonnos denied the Gaels a golden sweep with a final-match victory over Cathedral’s Mekeelah Dillon.
“I’ve been playing badminton ever since I was little,” 15-year-old Vadakken said. “My father (George) decided he was going to make a little club for me and my age group of friends. He would train us twice a week and we would go to a gym. He was my first coach. Then I joined a more intense club called Lions Badminton in Burlington.”
Vadakken says there’s a lot to like about badminton: “It brings you closer to people. It’s not that hard and it’s good for all ages.”