Badminton provides the latest international honour for former Leoville teacher
The sport of badminton continues to serve as a passport to experience the world for Yves Côté.
At last count, the former longtime Leoville teacher and principal, has had his passport stamped in 27 different countries, many of those in Asia which is a hotbed for top-level badminton.
In a recent visit to the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, Côté shared the news that is the pinnacle for badminton referees–an invitation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games. He will be the first-ever Canadian to officiate at this level through the Badminton World Federation.
Although by nature a humble sort, Côté was quick to acknowledge that “this is a great honour, and I am very much looking forward to it.”
Even though Côté returned to his original roots in Gaspé, Quebec upon his retirement five years ago, he is adamant the northern community of Leoville will always feel like his home after having spent 30 years there.
On this latest swing west with Badminton Canada in Winnipeg, Côté said he couldn’t resist the chance to go back and spend time in Leoville where he still has many friends from his time in the area.
“I always call Leoville home and to me it is like a big family. Saskatchewan will always feel like home,” he said, recalling how he came here seeking employment and from the outset, fell in love with the idyllic surroundings.
Aside from his long career in the school, Côté was also a strong presence in the community, where he was front and centre in establishing a community badminton club that grew to well over 100 members, making it the second largest such club in the province at the time.
“I hope I had a good influence in the community. People embraced me from the start. No matter what I needed, it was just a matter of asking and they have always been there for me. It’s been unbelievable,” Côté said.
The original plan was to fulfil a two-year contract and improve his English language skills as part of the process. As fate would have it, the school’s female team won a provincial badminton title within that time span “and I was hooked. I realized that by helping kids, the more I gave, the more I received in return,” he said.
One of the experiences Côté savoured from his time in Leoville was how he wound up coaching and teaching a second generation of badminton players and students during his latter years.
A slip on the ice led to needing to have his shoulder surgically rebuilt, which required nearly a year of recovery. It was then suggested by his longtime friend Brian Quinn (superintendent with Living Sky School Division at that time) that he would be better off relocating to North Battleford while continuing to undergo frequent and extensive physiotherapy.
Looking back on his time at Connaught Elementary School, Côté said it was a life-changing experience as he saw first-hand the sorts of poverty and other issues that he had only heard of but never confronted.
He recalled that while staying with Quinn and his family, the latter noticed not only had the experience changed Côté, but also for the students as he became involved in extracurricular activities like leather crafting as well as being the math consultant.
Côté said somewhat wistfully that this experience came too late in his career. Nevertheless, it led him to be mindful to increase the recognition of the students back at Leoville more than ever, and there was also a concerted effort to bring more parents into the school.
“It was so unbelievable how we had way more support than we even thought we would,” he recalled. He added that, in reference to the experience in Connaught, “every teacher in every school should spend some time in an environment like that because it changes your perspective.”
Although retired, Côté is still active as a coach of the badminton team at the same high school he attended growing up. “Every year we are sending someone to provincials and it’s great,” he said.
His Saskatchewan roots means he has had visitors come to check out his new digs, with the house he always had owned but refitted with the help of Quinn during an extended visit. According to Côté, the property faces the iconic Percé Rock and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, which he chuckled means that winds off the water are pretty much a daily occurrence.
On his latest trip back to Leoville he was going to catch up with the town’s other Olympian, Bob Hudson, who participated in the 2012 Paralympic Games in archery. The two played on the same hockey team and both were goalies. Shaking his head, Côté remembered in 2003 when he blew his knee and three weeks later Hudson, a small motor mechanic, broke his back in a snowmobiling accident that left him confined to a wheelchair, whereupon he took up archery.
Côté said that he will be bringing his bow to have “instruction from the best.” Ironically, as hockey teammates, Côté was number 35 while Hudson assumed 37 “because he was a little better than me,” he chuckled.
That’s just how it is with Côté, the raconteur extraordinaire. Somehow the pieces all fit together and they seem to hit the target.