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    Tennis teacher inspires disabled

    Tennis teacher inspires disabled

    By Debra Shannon
    Special Correspondent

    May 30, 2003

    Bruce Karr has been in a wheelchair since he was 17, but that hasn't stopped the energetic 67-year-old from competing in world-class sporting events.

    The Boynton Beach resident recently won the "A" division doubles match at the Florida Open International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in Boca Raton. For 12 years, he has participated in international tournaments in Europe and Asia.

    As founder of the Palm Beach-based National Wheelchair Sports Fund, he gets great satisfaction from helping others in wheelchairs get plugged into tennis.

    "It's thrilling to bring along some 14-year-old kid, or even someone who was disabled later in life ... " he said.

    Karr works closely with Patch Reef Park tennis pro Kari Yerg-McGinn, who runs a weekly wheelchair tennis clinic at the Boca Raton facility.

    "Kari is a good friend and a super asset for wheelchair tennis," he said.There are about 10,000 wheelchair tennis players in the world and about 100 of them live in South Florida, according to Yerg-McGinn. Most of them are familiar with the Boca Raton resident and her parents, Dick and Sandi Yerg of Delray Beach.

    Tennis has always been a family affair for the Yergs. Sandi Yerg, 62, was a high school tennis coach who still plays eight times a week. Dick Yerg, 64, was a sports writer for the Westchester Rockland newspaper in New York.

    At 36, Yerg-McGinn's credentials include being chosen to coach the U.S. Quad Team for the 2002 World Team Cup and the juniors for the 2003 cup.

    In 2002-03, she was the U.S. Tennis Association's high-performance wheelchair tennis coach.

    Now, the three of them organize wheelchair tournaments, coach and run free weekly clinics for players of all ages.

    On a recent Tuesday night, Dick Yerg fed balls across the net to two wheelchair players, while Sandi Yerg did a tennis warm-up with another player.

    "Wow, good try," Dick Yerg said to encourage his student.

    "Nice hands," Sandi Yerg bellowed out to a player who hit a great alley shot.

    On a nearby court, Kari Yerg-McGinn hit balls with her husband, Johnny McGinn, 31, who she met at a wheelchair tournament three years ago. They married six months later.

    A former college soccer star, McGinn was paralyzed in a car crash when he was 24.

    "Nice, babe," she encouraged him, as he returned a strong backhand shot.

    Yerg-McGinn, a Pennsylvania State University graduate who has coached two World Cup wheelchair tennis teams, teaches and coaches able-bodied Patch Reef Park men's and women's teams.

    But there's no doubt that coaching wheelchair tennis is her passion after watching her run the tournament desk at the Florida Open International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in April at Patch Reef Park.

    During that sweltering week, 192 of the world's best wheelchair tennis players descended on the tennis center, battling it out for rankings and titles in their specially designed slanted tennis chairs on the courts.

    "This is the world's largest wheelchair tennis tournament, and it was voted 2002 Tournament of the Year by the International Tennis Federation," boasted a proud Yerg-McGinn, who is able-bodied but has a tennis wheelchair that she often plays in to relate to her players.

    In wheelchair tennis, the players get two bounces. Otherwise, the game is the same.

    Yerg-McGinn's teaching philosophy stresses there are no such words as "I can't."

    Only about a dozen cities in the United States offer wheelchair tennis clinics like this on a weekly basis, Yerg-McGinn said. She said it's possible for Boca Raton to offer these free clinics because of financial support from Meg Gale of Greenacres' Molly B Fund, which helps fund the National Wheelchair Sports Fund.

    Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel