Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Among the most eye-opening accomplishments of Wen Wang's tenure as a MacEwan student-athlete: he led the Griffins badminton team to a victory over Team Canada.
"Together with me, we had some strong former Chinese national players on the team as well," explained the former Chinese junior national champion, who won three-straight Canadian Colleges Athletic Association national men's singles titles wearing Griffins silks (1989-91).
"I think in ways it's surprising a college team beat a national team, but in other ways, we knew we were going to do it. We had such a strong team; we were pretty much all top international players. It was exciting as a team to beat them, but we kind of expected it."
On June 11, Wang will be inducted into the CCAA Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Calgary. A night earlier, Wang will also be inducted into the Edmonton Sports Hall of Fame, capping an incredible year for his family.
"It means a lot because it's been almost 30 years now," he said. "I'm excited to get the recognition after 30 years. Plus, at the same time my kids both won player of the year, so it's making me excited."
Both daughter Takeisha Wang and son Desmond Wang captured Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference athletes of the year honours after combining to win the CCAA badminton mixed doubles gold medal for Concordia. They previously both won CCAA singles championships (2018), following in the footsteps of their father, who was the most dominant badminton player in North America when he emigrated from China in 1988.
"When I first came, I didn't lose any games in North and South America for three years," he said. "For me, it wasn't too difficult to win the CCAA because it (wasn't the highest level I played)."
Wang went on to win the Canadian national singles title three times (1990, 1994, 1997) and was among the top badminton athletes in the world during his prime. He was inducted into MacEwan Athletics' Wall of Distinction in 2001.
Wen Wang, right, led the Griffins to victory over the Canadian national team during his tenure at MacEwan (Handout).
Wang's playing career was eventually cut short by finances.
"I quickly stopped playing badminton because of my financial problems," he said. "In China as a professional, we get paid to play badminton, but here we have to pay.
"All of my teammates (in China) went on to become a world champion except me because of the financial problems."
However, that setback launched one of the most successful badminton coaching careers in the country. In the years since leaving MacEwan, he has gone on to become one of the most important builders of the sport in Edmonton.
Wang first coached at the Royal Glenora Club, paying immediate dividends, by producing the first national champion the club ever had in 1993. In 1997, RGC players won 7 out of 10 national titles and 10 of 20 provincial championships.
Since then, he's coached a steady stream of provincial through Pan-American champions and has lost count of the number of titles his students have won. That run continues to this day at the B-Active Badminton Club – a facility he has owned and been the head coach at since 2015.
In a coaching career that's spanned more than a quarter-century, Wen Wang has mentored countless badminton champions from the provincial to Pan-American levels (Courtesy Wen Wang/Choy Studio).
"I think just being passionate about what I'm doing," he explained of the success as a builder of the sport. "I love the job I'm doing. Every time I coach a lesson, I try my best to give (advice).
"In badminton, it's important to teach them how to use the sport to carry on their life. That toughness and how they handle different positions will eventually carry on helping them become better people. That's what I've been trying to do."
That includes mentoring his kids, who have gone on to enjoy success at the post-secondary level, too.
Turns out badminton runs even further in the family. Wang's wife Shirley Mah played for the NAIT Ooks at the same time he was at MacEwan. They met when the ACAC sent a team to nationals. Mah won a CCAA silver medal.
"We had initially met through ACAC competitions, and later we were able to both qualify for the CCAA National Championships," Wang told the CCAA. "This was my most memorable year of the three years that I competed in the CCAA and ACAC."
The lessons Wang learned from his time at MacEwan are ones he's been able to apply throughout his life.
"By being able to participate in the ACAC and CCAA, I learned how to be a team player, and how to support my teammates in training and competition," Wang told the CCAA. "I also developed the leadership skills that I needed to be a badminton coach later on."