Making tennis truly available for everyone

Randy Kambic
Special to Coastal Life
Mark McLean, left, who teaches tennis at Rutenberg Park; Lyn Bruner, executive director of the Lee County Community Tennis Association, and John Karter, who coordinates wheelchair tennis at Three Oaks Tennis Center at Barbara Manzo Park, together at the USTA Adult Wheelchair Tournament.

Three Oaks Tennis Center in Barbara Manzo Park along with Rutenberg Park host players of all ages and abilities on a year-round basis.

This includes those whose movements are impaired and challenged.

Recently, a major showcase of skills, determination and will to enjoy and compete in the game was displayed.

The nonprofit Lee County Community Tennis Association and the WestCoasters Wheelchair Tennis Association conducted a U.S. Tennis Association Florida-sanctioned Adult Wheelchair Tournament involving 12 players in both singles and doubles divisions at the Three Oaks facility in South Fort Myers.

Jack Beaulieu prepares to smack a forehand near doubles partner John Karter during USTA Adult Wheelchair Tournament.

The competition, which included a consolation tournament, was preceded by a public demonstration of wheelchair tennis and instruction.

Competitors from our area included Jack Beaulieu and Allen Fiske, both of Fort Myers; John Karter, of Naples; Marc McLean, of Cape Coral; Bob Baer, of Lehigh Acres; and Earl Hielm, of Port Charlotte. The other players that took part were David Harrison, Fort Lauderdale; Lynn Seidemann, Delray Beach; Nick Williams, Boca Raton; Paul Holt, Melbourne Beach; Curtis Leatherbee, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Jody Lawhead, Grand Junction, Colorado.

Players exhibit tremendous dexterity and maneuverability, utilizing modified sportschairs. Traditional wheelchairs are adapted as the two main wheels are angled outward and lighter composite frame composition make turning and moving slightly faster and easier; triangular-configured wheels affixed to the bottom add more stability.

Golf and tennis bridge FGCU, community

360-degree turns

As chairs can’t be moved directly laterally or backward, players often do quick 360-degree turns plus pivots while continually moving to track down balls in a two-bounce play format.

The program was supported by grant money from the Leavens Foundation, based in Middle Valley, New Jersey, represented by Eileen Mann, a seasonal resident of Pelican Marsh in Naples.

Karter, who has been playing for 24 years, also organizes wheelchair tennis at Three Oaks on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

“We take care of everyone, the more people we get the better,” he exclaimed, adding that he provides four sportschairs, two that were obtained via donations by members of Heritage Palms Golf & Country Club of Fort Myers. Karter also races bikes in contests around the country.

His longtime court partner Beaulieu, of Gulf Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Fort Myers, added, “I know where John is at all times out there.” The duo will compete in another tournament in Boca this weekend.

McLean provides instruction for wheelchair and able-bodied players at Rutenberg Park in Fort Myers. He began playing wheelchair tennis in 1999 and has played in many tournaments, both in the U.S. and abroad, including in Israel and Sweden last year.

“It’s nice to work with people who didn’t realize they could do this,” he said. “I’ve also taught many people who played tennis before becoming impaired which makes it easier, yet they still need to learn how to maneuver in the chair,” citing the considerable strides in technology that he’s witnessed as earlier chairs posed the real threat of tipping over when reaching high and backward to make returns.

A tennis man of two counties


McLean is also a veteran goalie on the Florida Bandits sled hockey team that plays home games and practices at Fort Myers Skatium in downtown Fort Myers. He’ll be defending the net for the team at the USA Disabled Hockey Festival national championships in Detroit this weekend. The Florida Ice beginner program is also offered.

At Three Oaks, Williams and Seidemann each won separate singles divisions and the team of Lawhead and Williams won the doubles division. Singles’ consolation-round winners were Beaulieu and Seidemann; doubles, Beaulieu and Karter.

McLean thanked Lyn Bruner, executive director of the LCCTA, for being so instrumental in making the three-day program possible with “her incredible drive and initiative.”

Bruner turned the attention back to the players. “They are inspiring. Everyone’s positive. It’s great they can participate. The camaraderie, the way they support each other is wonderful.”

Beyond the gates

Spanish Wells Country Club, Bonita Springs, will hold a 9 and Dine golf and dinner event for members, April 12 ... David Allyn was promoted from assistant pro to head pro at Raptor Bay Golf Club, Bonita Springs. He’s also sales and tournament director.

Tennis perfect for physical workout, social connection