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Former college badminton stars return home for tournament

There is simply no slowing down soon-to-be 67 year old Diana Chiasson.

Despite tweaking her knee slightly while at roller derby practice (yes, you read that correctly), the native of Cape Breton Island maintained enough court mobility to join in the fun at the annual Dennis Dionne Memorial Masters Badminton Tournament recently.

First introduced to the game during her high school days in Kingston, Chiasson has continued to play since her arrival in Sudbury in 1971, most often finding a partner to compete in either women's doubles or mixed doubles events.

"I almost never played singles because I suck at singles," Chiasson said with a laugh, taking a breather between games at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School. "I like both mixed and women's doubles, but mixed is probably my favourite."

"I don't know why, but I've always liked it more." Partnered with Luc Cloutier from Timmins for the Dionne Memorial Tournament, Chiasson admitted she has found another sporting passion which has caught her attention, beyond the afore-mentioned fascination with roller derby.

"Pickleball is way more fun than badminton," she suggested. "I love badminton, I've played it for many, many years, but I am at the level I am going to be at. I'm never going to get better, I'm just where I am."

"Pickleball is new to me, so I have room for improvement, which makes it more interesting." While never a medal contender on a provincial scale, Chiasson can reminisce of the days when she could still test herself against some of the bigger names in the sport.

"When I moved to Sudbury, I played at the old Cambrian College on Notre-Dame (now Ecole Sacré Coeur), and there used to be bats flying up near the ceiling," she said. "At that time, I played very competitively, not like I play now."

"We were gone every weekend, every second weekend to play. I remember being in Rouyn Noranda and playing against Denyse Julien. I was happy with the fact that I could give her a game." Julien would enjoy an illustrious international career, claiming an amazing 31 national titles between 1981 and 2004, while competing in singles, mixed doubles and women's doubles play.

While perhaps not equalling the badminton resumé of Julien, Rob Parnell certainly drew attention in his own right while attending Cambrian College in the late 1990s. Inducted into the OCAA Hall of Fame in 2009, Parnell teamed with partner Rob Kaytar to win gold at both the OCAA and CCAA championships in 1998 and 1999.

A member of the OCAA All-Millenium badminton team along with his wife Pierrette (Gravelle), the couple took time to make the trek to Sudbury for the Masters tournament from their current home in Kitchener.

Where Chiasson has never left the game of badminton, Parnell travelled a different path once his post-secondary career was complete. "I played badminton for one year after we moved (in 2000 from Sudbury to Kitchener), and then I switched and played volleyball," he said.

"I think I just needed a change. When you leave college and you're training full time, and you realize that you're not going to be able to play at that level, well, I needed a change - and I had played volleyball all the way through high school."

Perhaps it is only fitting that a family that was initially created in part via a notable connection with badminton should find their return to the sport triggered by a similar connection very close to home.

"My son (Brandon) started to play badminton a couple of years ago, so we got a family membership and now we're slowly starting to get back into it," said Parnell. "I think I am at the point now where I am done volleyball, and the kids don't always need to be driven everywhere, so we've starting playing and started getting a spark for it again, which is kind of nice."

Now 47 years of age, Parnell admits to not getting a chance to head up to his post-secondary stomping grounds as often as he would like. "This is a nice social thing for us," he said. "We haven't seen some of these people since we left Sudbury."

While the primary theme of the two-day tournament may have emphasized fun and friendship more than pure competition, there were still ribbons to be distributed in the end, with top finishers as follows:

Men's Doubles - 40+
1st - Michael Fleming/Byron Bobbie
2nd - Tim Yu/Donald Legendre

Mixed Doubles - 40+
1st in "A" - Donald Legendre/Tanya Cloutier
1st in "B" - Byron Bobbie/Lyna Cloutier

Men's Doubles - 30+
1st in "A" - David Trinh/Peter Do
1st in "B" - Allen Wong/Amrit Bhusal

Ladies Doubles
1st - Liette Gravelle/Pierrette Parnell
2nd - Tanya Cloutier/Lyna Cloutier
3rd - Ashlyn Low/Janet Parfitt

Men's Doubles - Open (19+)
1st - David Trinh/Peter Do
2nd - Allen Wong/Amrit Bhusal
3rd - Hans Agnihotri/Ching Lai

Mixed Doubles - Open (19+)
1st - Michael Fleming/Janet Parfitt
2nd - Hans Agnihotri/Ashlyn Low

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