Clyde Sheppard helps guide badminton hopefuls
by Randy Pascal
Clyde Sheppard insists that he is far more of a sports administrator, an organizer, than a coach. Just don't tell that to the hundreds of students
he has impacted over a span of 40 years or so.
The long-time local educator, now retired, remains a mainstay at badminton events across the region. Yet the court sport really did not come into the
picture at all for almost twenty years.
The second youngest of five children in the family, Clyde was part of the Falconbridge Sheppard clan that numbered 27 or so in his youth, between aunts
and uncles, cousins and nieces.
"We grew up at a time when the mines pushed the hockey teams, brought in pro soccer players to work and play," Sheppard said. "It was really neat being
young in the city."
Though his eventual brother-in-law would introduce Sheppard to track & field, the variety of sports in his youth was almost endless. "We all played
baseball, we played other things, but there was nothing organized like it is today," he explained.
"You couldn't go to a soccer league, you couldn't go to tennis lessons - that wasn't available. But as soon as high school came along, it was every sport
I could do," said Sheppard. "We never had a car until I was older, so it was hitchhiking back out to Falconbridge. The longer I could stay, the happier I
There was almost an inevibility to the fact that Sheppard would somehow become involved, as a career, in a life of sport. "Growing up in that kind of
time, you just had to be active. I just figured that the more I got to do, the more prepared I would be to become the dumb jock that I became" Sheppard
said, tongue plantly firmly in cheek.
A high school career at Garson-Falconbridge gave way to post-secondary Physical Education studies at Laurentian, with the requisite one year stopover
at Queen's University, completing Teacher's College with his wife, Gunda.
The teaching profession proved eventful, in the early years, for Sheppard, as a myriad of twists and turns provided for opportunities at both elementary
and secondary institutions, with job security initially a veritable on-going ebb and flow.
Through it all, involvement in sport remained the passion, a framework built and impacted by the likes of Sam Demarchi, Gabe Guzzo and Peter
Hocking. In many ways, Sheppard suggests his willingness to tackle a whole variety of sporting activites stems from a similar mindset from Hocking,
his first true coach, allowing him to run cross-country while also playing football.
With an initial stint at Lasalle Secondary, Sheppard would move out to Levack Secondary, a school he would call home for some 17 yaers before closing
out his teaching career back at the home of the Lancers.
It was a time where extra-curricular activities seemed the least of his burdens, a task that he approached with a near-boundless energy. "I always felt
that the Phys Ed teacher should be putting in those extra hours in coaching to make up for the ease of marking, the ease of the pressures of teaching,
benefitting from the joy of a kid walking into the Phys Ed class versus most other classes," Sheppard said.
It was a mindset, he insists, that was shared by many. And it was also a time where the spectrum of teacher-coaches was not limited, in the least, to
those who taught in the Phys Ed department. Math, Science, English teachers and everything in between formed the base grouping of educators who so influenced
the athletic youth of the 1960's, 70's and 80's.
Moving from the large school environment of Lasalle to the smaller, more intimate setting at Levack, Sheppard's love of sport was fuelled by yet another
slightly different interaction. "In many cases, it was the parents that got me into the sports I wanted to deal with," he said.
"It was a small group that got us into badminton in Levack. That quality of kid and their parents, they brought me along." With success burgeoning in
the small mining community thanks to the likes of Mike McAnulty, Joey Campbell and Donna Dwyer, the Sheppards love of badminton grew.
"At a school of 300 students, we probably had 40 kids heading off to tournaments," Sheppard noted. "We're having fun and all of a sudden, we're being
invited to these provincial club tournaments."
Yet from a purely technical standpoint, Clyde Sheppard is more than willing to take a backseat. "I've seen the "real" coaches," he said. "I had more fun
handing out t-shirts at the end of cross-country season because your ran 60 days, or you covered a certain number of miles."
While some of the approach was borrowed directly from track coach Terry McKinty, Sheppard is also blessed with a wonderful creativity, constantly
finding ways to keep athletes engaged. "I could make any practice fun, but I wasn't as interested in the pure technical side of the sport."
To this day, he is more than willing to work alongside the likes of Benno Kurvits and Carol Agnihotri, providing organizational support and
allowing others to tackle the finer details of the sport.
Humble by nature, Sheppard does not hesitate to poke a little fun at himself, perhaps even downplaying slightly the importance of his involvement.
Underestimating his impact would be a huge mistake. There will always be a very special place for all those people who provide a venue that allows kids
to enjoy sport for fun, for the Clyde and Gunda Sheppards of the world.