Two years ago, Stettler buddies John Langford and Kyle Poapst soaked up the Alberta Winter Games experience as relative rookies with the Zone 4 badminton team.
At the time, Poapst was 13 and Langford had just turned 14. They still managed to represent the region well in the under-17 tournament at Spruce Grove and Stony Plain, as Zone 4 (Parkland) took home the Spirit of Sport Award for fair play and sportsmanship.
This time around, Langford and Poapst bring experience to Zone 4’s eight-member badminton entry in the Alberta Winter Games, which run Thursday through Sunday at Banff and Canmore.
The under-17 badminton tournament begins Friday at Canmore, with individual and team events scheduled. And the Stettler boys are expected to be among the medal contenders.
“There’s a lot more expectation this time,” said Langford, who turned 16 on New Year’s Day. “We’ve been training a lot and making sure we can do our best when we go there.
“It’ll be a good-competition tournament. It’s going to be good.”
Langford is in tournament mode, after playing in Saskatoon two weekends ago and in the Stettler junior tournament last weekend.
At home Sunday, Langford won the under-16 boys’ singles championship and teamed up with Poapst to take the doubles’ title. Poapst was the silver-medallist in the singles’ event.
Poapst, who turns 16 next month, remembers going into the last Winter Games with modest expectations. “We were going to have a good time,” he said.
Although plenty of fun is still in store, the on-court outlook might be a little different this year.
“I guess it’s different,” Poapst said.
“We know a lot of the guys we’re going up against. We’ve played against some of them in tournaments, so we’ve got a better idea of what’s going on.”
Langford is designated mainly for singles’ action, while Poapst is slated to play mixed doubles with Stettler clubmate Cassidy Nichols.
Also bound for the Winter Games are Allyssa Acera of Stettler and Red Deer’s Bryce Kopec, a former Stettler resident and a current member of the Stettler Junior Badminton Club. They were partners last weekend in the Stettler tournament.
Rounding out the Zone 8 badminton contingent are Red Deer’s Evan Nadon, a member of the Stettler club, and Ponoka girls McKenzie Henderson and Samira Rowland.
Poapst and Nichols warmed up for the Games last weekend as partners in the Stettler tourney.
“We play pretty well together,” said Poapst, a Grade 10 student who juggles badminton with his front-line role with the junior varsity boys’ basketball team at William E. Hay Composite High School.
“I played well on the weekend in singles, and I ended up losing to John (Langford), but no surprise there,” he added with a chuckle.
Poapst and his Wildcat basketball teammates host Rocky Mountain House tonight before he boards the Zone 4 bus Thursday for the trip to the Winter Games.
“It’s pretty big,” he said. “The opening ceremonies are a good experience.
“During the Games, there’s a lot of down time when you meet other athletes. The last time, I met a lot of kids from other zones at badminton. There’s also a lot of volunteers — you thank them every time you see them.
“It’s a really good experience. There’s a pool party this year. There’s a dance at the Banff Springs Hotel. Lots of food, so that’s good.”
There’s a good chance that Poapst and Langford might partner in the team competition, which pits Zone 4 against Zone 2, the Big Country entry made up mainly of players from the Edison badminton factory in Okotoks.
“Yes. I will make that happen at some point,” said Zone 4 coach Chris Langford, who is John’s mother.
Poapst and Langford would get that opportunity to partner in the team portion of the Winter Games tourney.
“The kids play a team event — zone versus zone — during which I will designate the boys’ singles, girls’ singles, boys’ doubles, girls’ doubles and mixed doubles teams,” Chris Langford said.
“I designate based upon who I feel our opposing zone team might put in those events. I will probably allow some wild switchups, since all of my boys prefer singles and are fairly equally skilled, and all of the girls prefer doubles or mixed.
“In the individual-event portion of the Games, each player has only one designated event — Cass and Kyle are the Zone 4 mixed team, McKenzie and Samira are the girls’ doubles team, Evan and Bryce are the boys’ doubles team and Allyssa and John will be the Zone 4 singles’ players.”
The Games are a family affair for the Langfords. John’s brother, James, a former Winter Games participant, is the male chaperon for the Zone 4 badminton club.
“We’re not really too sure about team events yet,” John Langford, a Grade 10 student, said this week.
“I’ll probably be in a lot of singles events. For the main tournament draw, I’ll be playing singles.”
One day after a three-day tournament in Stettler, Langford and his teammates practised Monday night as the Games countdown began.
“It’s going to be fun to go again,” he said. “It’s a pretty big thing. It’s cool.
“We’re looking forward to it, because it only happens every two years. It will be my second time going — and my last.”
Longtime Stettler junior badminton coach Bruce LaRocque is among the officials at the Winter Games.
Along with the badminton contingent, Stettler’s representation at the Games this weekend includes fencer Riley Norman and figure skater Rebecca Harvey.