There is no denying the athletic rivalry that exists on a local level when teams or athletes representing the College Boreal Viperes and the Cambrian Golden Shield go head to head.
Yet for as much as that combative intensity is tangible, there remains a kindred connection between the two Sudbury-based OCAA adversaries. In fact, many are the times when sporting folks have actually enjoyed a presence, at different points in their careers, with both institutions.
In volleyball alone, we have seen the likes of Shane St Louis, Chris Holden, Tom Sutton and others pledge allegiance to both schools, albeit never simultaneously. Furthermore, current Boreal Director of Athletics, Andrea Boyce, is actually an alumnus of the Cambrian women's volleyball program.
Given all of this, it would seem that the badminton pathway that Mike Dionne has travelled, one which has steered directly through both campuses and their respective badminton teams, does not appear all that unique.
As with the others above, it is a passion for his sport that drives this local man, who has stepped away from the coaching ranks for the first time in more than a decade, the early portion of which saw the graduate of Lasalle Secondary still competing as a varsity athlete for the Golden Shield.
"I actually didn't really take to it (badminton) until I was in grade nine," recalled Dionne. "Truthfully, I wish I had taken it more seriously in grades nine and ten, but it was really the second half of grade eleven, and then on into grade twelve when I started really focusing on it, knowing that I was going to be going to Cambrian, and wanting to up my skill to make their team."
By his final year as a Lancer, Dionne was reaping the benefits of the extra work, teaming with men's doubles partner Chris Hocking to dominate the competition locally and in the north, en route to a top eight finish that year at OFSAA.
In a candid self-assessment, the player who would turn coach recognized, perhaps slightly later on, that the doubles event offered a template that offset some of the biggest challenges he would face. "I had a lot of temper problems," Dionne admitted. "As much as I did enjoy the singles game, contrary to what it might have looked like at that time, I just couldn't keep it in my head."
"In doubles, I could still lose it, but I could keep it together better for my partner's sake."
Through two years within the Police Foundation program at Cambrian College, the youngest of three children in the family would continue to grow on the court, advancing to provincials in singles play in his freshman year, and falling in the OCAA bronze medal men's doubles final the following year with teammate Adam Root.
By then, Dionne had also began his journey as a coach, following in the footsteps of his father, Dennis, who served as an assistant coach to Clyde Sheppard at Lasalle, before joining forces for many years with Lynn Michel at Boreal.
The younger Dionne did not have to look far to find role models, folks with whom he could relate as he worked on compiling a coaching methodology that he could truly call his own. "I think with Clyde, I very closely adopted his sense of humour," said Dionne, with a smile. "We clicked quite well, just the way that we interacted with other players and coaches, and just about anybody."
"With Rob (McCann at Cambrian), I really paid attention to his drills and the way that he organized a practice, and his technical wizardry, in a sense. I tended to emulate the way he ran a practice." Perhaps it is not all that surprising, given the reality of genetics, that the takeaway from time spent with his dad was somewhat more personal.
"I really didn't take a lot of influence from his as a coach, but my connection to the kids was the same as him," said Dionne. "He always referred to the kids that he coached as "his" kids. I think I tend to have that same closeness to them."
Unlike some athletes who recognize quite early the appeal of the coaching stream when their playing days are done, this born and raised Sudburian crossed over somewhat in response to a larger goal. "It was not necessarily coaching, but I wanted to give back in some way, especially after my five years with Clyde, and him doing so much for me," said Dionne.
"It turns out coaching seemed to be quite a good fit. Whether I was good at it or not, that's for the history books to say - but I certainly enjoyed it."
For the past seven years, formally, and three before that, informally, Dionne has helped provide badminton guidance at College Boreal, serving as head coach of the team from 2014 to 2019.
Perhaps there was comfort to be sought following the passing of his father in March of 2012. "After he passed and I became the assistant coach at Boreal, my dream was actually to be the head coach of Cambrian, but they had positions filled, and then the timing of the Boreal position came up and I couldn't say no to it."
Though it would be tough to argue that his greatest takeaway from his time at Boreal comes in the form of his current wife and former Viperes badminton star Valerie Breen, Dionne had no trouble recalling many a memorable athlete. From the simple joy of working with a group that included Breen, Jenna Dupuis, Justin Richardson, Pat Michel and Lynn Michel, to the incredible progress displayed by others, the role provided payback to Dionne in spades.
"Emilie Roy is probably my favourite success story," he suggested. "I coached her from the moment that I did not want her on the team, to not wanting to let her go. To see her skill level progress, and the way that her personality flourished, that was a highlight."
And as the young couple anxiously await the arrival of their first child, joining the family that includes Mike's son Collin from a previous relationship (not to mention the friendly nine month old canine furball that is Larry), one senses that this will not be the final foray that Mike Dionne enjoys in the coaching ranks.
"I see it happening at some point down the line, just not anytime soon," he said. "I'm enjoying the freedom right now too much."