RL's Reinhard trying to keep positive attitude despite setbacks

 
 
Published3/16/2008 12:05 AM

Like three strikes, it's three Fs and you're out.

Kai Reinhard, who was playing baseball before he probably could tie his own spikes, knows that and accepts that. A senior at Round Lake, he was recently informed he won't be able to play his final season of high school baseball because he failed three of his six classes last semester.

 

In one of them, college algebra, he missed a passing mark by one percentage point.

But life isn't always fair. Sometimes answers -- in classrooms and in life -- are elusive.

Take Reinhard's grandfather, whom he never met.

On Aug. 7, 1988, in what became a national news story, Daily Herald sports writer Keith Reinhard vanished from the town of Silver Plume, Colo., a former silver mining camp. His disappearance stumped even the popular television series "Unsolved Mysteries."

"He left a bar in Silver Plume -- his best friend talked to him last -- and said he was going into the mountains," said Kai, recounting the story he heard from his grandmother, Reinhard's ex-wife. "Supposedly, people were dumping nuclear waste in the mines, and that's illegal. He went out there with his camera and he never came back."

To this day, Keith Reinhard's disappearance remains a mystery.

"He was an awesome guy," said Beth Little, who married Keith's son and gave birth to Kai on Oct. 18 of the following year. "He loved taking pictures. He was eccentric, though. I had fun with him. He was a fun guy."

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In 2001, Sven Reinhard, Keith's oldest son and Kai's uncle, died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It was a bad accident," Beth said. "The kids (Kai and his three siblings) had a hard time dealing with that because they were very close to him."

"He was amazing," Kai said.

Life, like baseball, sometimes delivers curveballs. And sometimes they baffle high school kids.

Every school has its share of athletes who fail to make the grade and become academically ineligible to participate in sports. Often we assume it's because the student isn't that bright, doesn't know how to apply himself or herself when it comes to studying, or simply refuses.

But talk to Kai Reinhard and you don't suspect that's the case with him.

He accepts full accountability for his less-than-stellar report card last semester, but truth is, the 18-year-old was going through a rough patch in his life.

First, he and his girlfriend of two years broke up. Then, when his grades started to slip, he quit his part-time job at Target, where he was working five days a week, so he could focus on school, so he could play baseball in the spring.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Because baseball is everything to Kai.

His decision to quit Target, however, didn't sit well with his father, who's been divorced from Beth for 10 years. Kai's relationship with his dad is strained enough that Kai, sitting in a McDonald's booth and proudly wearing his letterman's jacket, gets emotional just talking about it.

They don't talk to each other much or see each other much, Kai said, even though his dad lives in the area.

So here it is last fall and Kai is failing relationships with two people he cares about greatly. Then, his grandmother, Beth's mother, becomes ill.

"Kai's very close to my mom," Beth said. "She had a heart attack, then she had back surgery, and she has rheumatoid arthritis. So she can barely walk now."

It was all too much for Kai, who had always been a solid student.

"It changed him," Beth said. "There was an anger. … We've always been close. He'd fly off the handle. The smallest thing would get him upset."

Kai got so depressed that he started staying home from school.

"Up until then, he very rarely would miss school," Beth said. "And up until last semester, his grades were always Bs and Cs."

Since Kai first started playing baseball at age 4, Beth said, he's always loved the game. It's kept him out of trouble and kept a smile on his face. A righty who bats lefty, Kai figured he'd be starting in center field this spring and helping the Panthers win a lot of baseball games.

Now, because he let himself slip for a semester, he's likely going to miss his senior season.

Beth is so concerned about her son that she's going to bat for him, so to speak. Or at least trying.

She's sent multiple e-mails to Anthony Holman, an assistant executive director for the IHSA whose responsibilities include overseeing baseball, hoping he can help her son.

Holman e-mailed her back to say he sympathizes, and while there's no waiver process for academic ineligibility, if Round Lake documented the issues it could request an appeal before the IHSA board of directors.

Despite her diligence, Beth hasn't gotten far.

"We're kind of being pushed to the side, and it's really hard on Kai, especially when it was kind of a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel type thing," she said.

The good news is, Kai is passing all his classes this semester.

"He's working through things," Beth said. "Things are looking better."

Before he says goodbye, after talking so candidly about his life for an hour, Kai asks the newspaper reporter a question about politics and then one about the prospects of his White Sox this season.

He's interesting -- and he's interested.

Yeah, he'll be fine.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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