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Paul Valencia: Basketball more than just a game to Fort’s Kerr

Paul Valencia: High Schools

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter
Published: February 13, 2015, 12:00am

YiMei Kerr was 12 years old when she was adopted, when she moved from China to Vancouver.

She did not speak English. Her new family did not speak Chinese.

But on that first day in her new home, Kerr looked outside and noticed other kids playing a sport. Her new brother, Matthew, and those neighbors invited YiMei to join them.

“I had never played basketball in China. I never played any sports in China,” said Kerr, now a senior at Fort Vancouver.

It was love at first shot.

“School and basketball are the best components that make up my life,” Kerr said. “I needed basketball.”

Kerr went from never playing the game until she was 12, to taking a year off from the sport for a medical procedure, to returning to basketball in high school, and then becoming Fort Vancouver’s point guard.

English as a second language might have been difficult initially, but basketball was easy to translate.

“My neighbors introduced me to basketball when I came to the United States the first day,” Kerr said.

One of those neighbors was Jordan Suell, arguably the best athlete at Fort Vancouver the past few years — a strong basketball player on the boys team, he is going to play football at Southern Oregon.

None of her neighbors cared that YiMei did not understand the language. They just wanted to help teach her the game. They wanted to include, not exclude her. Because, quite frankly, they knew that she was not really an outsider. She was their new neighbor. She was Matthew’s sister.

It was these early friendships and her new life at home that motivated Kerr to learn the new language in a hurry.

“At first it was hard because I couldn’t understand anybody. My family, all American people,” Kerr said. “You wanted to talk to somebody but you had no one to talk to. That’s how I picked it up pretty quickly.”

Kerr never knew a life with a family in China. She grew up in an orphanage.

“You’re with a lot of kids. You never get bored,” she said, adding that she does miss those friends in China.

Life in China was rough, though.

“It was very hard for me (at school) to make friends and get along with people because of who I am. My teachers were nice but not my classmates.”

“People (in China) judge you because you’re an orphan,” Kerr said. “Here, ‘That’s cool.’ They want to get to know you.”

Basketball helped her make new friends.

“I’m more outgoing than I was in China,” Kerr said. “In China, I was shy.”

Kerr had to put her new sport on hold for almost a year. Before high school, she underwent eight surgeries to correct a problem with her left leg. She was in a wheelchair most of the time. She hated being away from the sport, for feeling “lazy.”

As a freshman, though, she was cleared to return to athletics.

“I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to do,” Kerr recalled. “I didn’t want to mess up because I didn’t want to make my coach frustrated. It was a rough season.”

Her sophomore and junior years, she felt like she was getting a better understanding of the game. Fort Vancouver did not win a game when Kerr was a junior. But the Trappers did pick up two wins this season. Kerr hopes to attend Chaminade University in Hawaii to study criminal justice. Basketball will always be part of her life, she said.

“I really appreciate my family,” Kerr said, referring to parents Barbara and Alan Kerr, brother Matthew and sister Makena. “And my basketball coaches for always teaching me the fundamentals of basketball and life. I’m very grateful they are in my life.”

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YiMei Kerr’s story is a reminder that sports can change a life. Her experience proves that friendly neighbors can make all the difference in the world.

And we all should be reminded that high school sports teams do not need to win every game, or make the playoffs, to have an impact.

Columbian High School Sports Reporter