Birth: Guelph, Ontario, December 24, 1903
Died: June 10, 1991
Career Highlights1927-1931 - Five Ontario Singles Titles
1927-1931 - Four Ontario Doubles Titles
1929, ’30 - National Singles Champion
1932-1945 - World Professional Champion
1950 - Canada’s Outstanding Athlete of the 20th Century (miscellaneous sports category)
In the years between the First and Second World Wars, Jack Purcell rallied his way to the top of Canada’s amateur and professional badminton ranks, eventually claiming the world championship title.
A native of Guelph, Ontario, Purcell excelled tennis and golf in his youth. He took up badminton in 1924 and swiftly flew to the top of Ontario’s amateur ranks. Between 1927 and 1931, Purcell won five Ontario singles and four Ontario doubles titles. In 1929, he was the national badminton champion.
As the leading badminton figure in the country, Purcell began writing a badminton column for the Star Weekly. He successfully defended his national title in 1930, then went on to beat Britain’s top four badminton players, who were touring Canada at the time. In 1931, Purcell traveled to England, having exhausted the competition in his native country. He won the Surrey Doubles but got only as far as the semi-finals in the All-England Championships.
Purcell returned to Canada only to discover that the Canadian Badminton Association had stripped him of his amateur status, claiming that his instructional columns had made him a paid professional. Purcell was put off at first but soon embraced his new status and set out to conquer the professional world.
By 1932, Purcell had defeated the best players from England, Canada, and the United States, earning himself the title world professional badminton champion. Throughout the 1930s, he played exhibition games across North America, beating every outstanding player in the sport. His world championship crown was challenged numerous times, but Purcell remained unbeaten until his retirement in 1945.
Purcell’s brilliant success on the courts was partly due to his ability to confuse his opponents by looking one way and shooting the bird in another direction. As he stated, “deception in attack has been my strong point, and whereas in baseball the hitter tries to ‘put ‘em where they ain’t,’ I try to hit them where I’m not looking.”
In the early 1930s, Purcell helped design a shoe that offered more protection and support on the badminton courts. In the wake of the Depression years, Purcell managed to earn a steady income by endorsing Spalding badminton equipment in addition to these trademark shoes which bore his name. Originally manufactured by the Canadian footwear division of B.F. Goodrich, Jack Purcell shoes are still widely produced by the Converse shoe company, though they now serve more of a fashionable purpose than an athletic function.
The efforts of the Second World War caused a shortage in materials needed for badminton equipment and subsequently brought an end to Purcell’s career. He went to work selling war bonds and eventually started his own securities and bonds firm in Toronto.
Purcell continued to play recreational badminton after his retirement, until a freak accident during a friendly doubles game left him with a severely injured right eye and forced him off the courts for good.
In 1950, the Canadian Press named him the most outstanding athlete of the half-century in the miscellaneous sports category.