Lucio Fabris shines the spotlight on badminton
by Randy Pascal
Start with a sport that, for the most part, does not receive a boatload of publicity - say, badminton.
Throw in the passing of more than three decades. Finally, mix it all together with the wonderful humility of a soft-spoken man who takes at least as much
pride in the sporting accomplishments of his children as he does in discussing his incredibly athletic past.
It's easy to understand why the phenomenal talent of Lucio Fabris might go under-appreciated - except to those who witnessed, first hand, his
rise to international badminton prominence in the 1970s.
The youngest of two children in the family (older sister Linda was also quite a badminton talent, in her own right), Fabris grew up in Creighton Mines,
the son of a long-time Inco employee.
Though the population of the town numbered only 1200 or so at the time, sport was integral to the very fabric of the people who called Creighton home.
"It was an absolutely phenomenal community to grow up in," Fabris said.
"It was a melting pot of different nationalities, but the support you felt within the town was incredible. Everybody just kind of came together and you
always felt that everyone was cheering for everybody else," he added.
"The whole sense of community, helping and giving, was huge." In that era, baseball was a mainstay, the home of the Creighton Indians. But thanks
to the efforts of one man, primarily, another sport joined the spotlight.
"There were some really key people within the community," Fabris explained. "In badminton, we were lucky enough to have someone like Ev (Everett)
Staples, who basically devoted his whole life to the sport."
Born in New Brunswick, moving back there at retirement, the member of the Fredericton Sports Wall of Fame rose to prominence in northern Ontario.
An engineer by trade, Staples moved to the Sudbury region to play baseball, but took on coaching as his playing days subsided.
"His main thing, when he decided to coach, was that he wanted to get involved in a sport that would get a lot of kids in Creighton involved," Fabris
said. "He picked a sport where he thought he could really encourage athletes to become good people, and the sport was a secondary thing."
A gifted athlete, Staples had little to no background in badminton, but quickly mastered his new passion. "He was a natural coach," Fabris said. "He
went to tournaments, he watched good players, he asked a lot of questions, and then he formulated his own way, in terms of coaching."
"His biggest forte was making us believe in ourselves, letting us know that it was OK to make a mistake." The approach produced impressive results right
across the board, but few blossomed more than Fabris.
First introduced to the sport at the age of seven, playing competitively at nine, Fabris achieved success early on. "Prior to going to high school,
from age 11 to 14 or so, I had already gotten fully engrained in badminton, doing well provincially. I was already playing at a fairly high level."
Something of an understatement. As a junior, Fabris achieved the rare feat of capturing gold in men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles all in
the same year, one of only three people in the history of the Canadian Junior Badminton championships capable of making such a claim.
A graduate of St Charles College, Fabris moved on to the University of Toronto, quite convenient given the national training centre for badminton was
already situated in the Ontario capital city.
But the price of commitment is sacrifice, with Fabris unable to jump into the realm of Cardinals athletics to the extent he would have liked. "It
actually worked out fine for me because all five of our kids played a lot of sports."
"I got to kind of live those sports through them, in a very positive way." Plus, his dedication to badminton was paying dividends.Selected as a member
of the Thomas Cup team (the badminton equivalent of the Davis Cup in tennis), Fabris travelled to Thailand representing Canada.
"Although badminton is not a big sport here (in Canada), you go to Europe and see that it's elevated there," he said. "Then you go to Asia, where
there's 30,000 or 40,000 people watching and we practiced in the princess' palace, because she has her own badminton court."
The highlight, however, for Fabris, would come in 1978, as a member of the Commonwealth Games team that competed in Edmonton. Part of the team event, Fabris
would compete in both men's doubles and mixed doubles play.
"We played Malaysia in the semi-finals and they were favoured to win. We beat them in the fifth match (mixed doubles) in a game that lasted more than
two and a half hours," Fabris said.
"We finished around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m., because everything got delayed, but the crowd just wouldn't leave." The silver medal performance was the pinnacle,
athletically, for the Sudbury native who returned back to the area, with his wife Judy, raising all five of their children back home.
Blessed with natural athleticism, Darryl, Gregg, Kristina, Joanna and Michael are also a shining example of the benefit of sport, well-grounded and ripe
with life lessons that come with years of involvement with teammates and friends.
The type of off-spring who paid close attention when parents shared their wisdom. "We tried to teach them than in order to be good at something, you have
to really commit yourself to it," Fabris said.
"And when you do well at something, there has to be an appreciation for the fact that there were a lot of people that helped you get there." As someone
who has been there, Lucio Fabris brings a wealth of reason and experience to his role as a parent.
"I think sport attracts good people and can be such a positive avenue for so many things." Amen to that.