Quintessential People

Mark Reinhard: Finish Strong


by lisa stamos | Photo: thomas balsamo

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Mark Reinhard knows the game of basketball. You’d probably guess that, if you saw his height. He’s played the game. He’s been a coach. But working with a newly-formed team of special needs students with a wide range of ages, sizes, and judging their wide variety of disparate skill levels on court might seem impossible. Not for Mark. “Anything’s possible,” he says.

Mark stepped up as the volunteer coach for Barrington 220’s Special Olympics basketball team when his friend and neighbor, Dave Holt, learned about a new Special Olympics basketball program in the district. Dave, a strong advocate for such Barrington programs, was at a board meeting with Shandra Nosal, the Special Needs Educator at Roslyn Road School when basketball came up. They had track and field, Mark says, but she picked basketball for the next Special Olympics sports program. Dave told Shandra, “I’ve got just the guy for you,” when the need for a coach came up.

The Reinhards are “Fox Pointers” as he says. “We’ve lived in Barrington for almost 21 years.” He and wife Linda have three children; none with special needs. Going from the parenting of three children—with all the routines, logical rules, and expectations, and having played the sport as a young man with similarly skilled peer players—to coaching his new Special Olympics team was a sharp pivot. But Mark’s instincts prevailed.

“We just had to figure it out; it was all made up as we went along,” Mark said. “There was a budget for uniforms, though the shipment did not arrive in time for game one. Once they did, the players were proud to put them on.”

“We created the schedule and were given a weekly 90-minute timeslot at Lines Elementary once a week,” Mark said. The Barrington Special Olympics team is part of District 13 in the State. Teams that qualify travel in March to Illinois State University for the finals.

They started with 15 students, ranging in age from third grade to high school. The rules stated that if you had any high schoolers on your team, you had to play in that division. “So, our first team in 2012 was a ‘high school’ team, and we were crushed by our competitors in that level,” Mark said. “But after the first year, we had a good feeling about how to work our team.”

Mark’ goal was to get the best out of each individual, while creating a dynamic team. Some players who were not active ended up becoming the go-to players. He realized the key to building confidence in his players was to help them make their first basket.

“I am the only volunteer coach in region that I know of, as the others are paid,” Mark noted. Mark coaches students who have autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs. “I can get kids to run up and down the court which is something they could not do before we started. I watch a child progress from when he or she couldn’t coordinate their muscles to get a ball up in the air. Some of the kids have strength and no motor control. They get so frustrated, so we work on small adjustments, micro-instructions. Some of the players have trouble taking input, so we work it different, as small ideas, and then you can see them chewing on it. When they get it, and figure it out, we applaud them and say: You did it! Do that every time!”

“I never sit down, but am constantly giving instructions on the floor,” Mark said. “It’s about whether or not I can get their attention—but when you do and they listen, and act on it—for a coach that’s a magical moment. Then, when a player achieves something great, you pull them over, give positive feedback, and ask, ‘now, how do you get your teammates to score?’”

“Everyone is so excited when someone scores,” Mark said. “I’m getting a lot more out of this than the kids are; this is very special for me.” Mark also coaches students from the district as peer coaches, young adults who are interested in teaching or being special needs educators.

“They are so wonderful to have there. It was up to me figure out what to do with them,” Mark said. “So, I’d get peer coaches in front of the players, do specific practices, each time giving a new instruction. I’d pick two peer coaches every game, make sure the kids are moving in and out, and that everyone is playing. I manage processes on the floor for skill building. The biggest thing to look for is how to work together, and defense and offense. We give very customized and specific instructions, and we offer positive reinforcements.”

Mark says the best part of those practices are when you see that the players are there for each other. “When many started playing, they could not elevate the ball up above their head to shoot the rim. So, we just encouraged micro-movements,” Mark said. “And when someone makes the shot and scores, the place erupts. It’s unbelievable.”

The Special Olympics basketball players are a source of joy and pride to Mark. His teams have gone to State four of six years. The won back-to-back state championships, earning a gold twice in their division, and most recently won silver for second place. But in the end, what matters most to this coach is not just winning games, but to do your best, and finish strong.

Here are some words that others shared about Mark Reinhard.

Anne Coupe, Parent

I met Mark Reinhard when he became the coach of the newly-formed Special Olympics Basketball team in Barrington. Mark has been a true miracle worker. He was clearly undaunted and willing. When you first meet Mark, he gives a clear impression of being a compassionate, caring person with great listening skills. He also has endless patience, and a wonderful balance between coaching the individual and coaching the team.

It is impossible to explain in a few sentences what Mark Reinhard has done for the student athletes, our families, and the larger Barrington community. His patience, dedication, commitment, and fantastic coaching have led to a community spirit that incorporates the players, their families, the student peer coaches, and the school district. Mark met a group of inexperienced children with varying abilities and turned them into champions. One student began by running up and down the court, pleasantly requesting that players on the other team “give me the ball, please!” This student is arguably now the top player on the team. Another student athlete would threaten to hit another player if the ball was not given up to him; he is now one of the best dribblers and shooters. 

From these incredibly humble beginnings, Mark formed a group of competitive athletes who would proceed to State gold medal championships. For those of us old enough to remember, the transformation is akin to the “Bad News Bears” on steroids, but with a gentlemanly coach and kids with developmental and physical challenges. 

The self-esteem, pride, and competitive sportsmanship that Mark has fostered in these athletes cannot be overstated. He has taught them to love the game of basketball, to work together as a team, to share opportunities to score baskets. The teamwork is heartwarming and awe-inspiring, and the growth is virtually unbelievable. If you have any question as to the impact that Mark has had on these athletes and the community, please attend a Barrington vs. Hersey basketball game. It is truly heartwarming.

Janet Czarnecki, Parent

I have been assisting Coach Mark since he started. He is an amazing coach and the students look to him for support and assistance. My son, Hunter, has learned to rebound, pass to others to help them score, and dunk on a low basket. Coach Mark personally assists each student at practice with different skills. He empowers the peer coaches to step up and help coach other students. He is patient and compassionate. Hunter always brings a LEGO to show Coach at each practice. He listens to Coach and follows his directions. He attempts to have each student score to build their self-esteem, and all the students support each other to achieve this goal.  

Francesca Giancola, Peer Coach

Coach Reinhard epitomizes what it means to feel true love of the game. I have been fortunate enough to help Coach Reinhard as a volunteer for the last two seasons. Basketball is his game and if you get him talking about it, chances are he will never stop. That is true passion. Coach has been able to take his passion and patience onto the Special Olympics court to create an incredibly welcoming atmosphere full of smiles. He understands what it takes to manage this team and help communicate and demonstrate skills to the players. Each practice and game begin with a firm handshake and a happy hello. Whether taking them on in one-v-one’s, or helping teach how to shoot and rebound, not one practice goes by where Coach Mark is not interacting with his players. Of course, Coach loves to incentivize good sportsmanship and teamwork as well.

At one game, he tallied up the number of rebounds and assists each player got, with the winner getting an ice cream sundae as a reward. He makes it a point to instill his love of the game in all his players by teaching them that a good time is worth much more than having the most points. Because of Coach Mark, our players work hard to pass the ball and clear the way to give someone else a shot to the basket, even if that means getting 15 consecutive rebounds and handing it back until their teammate makes the shot. Being able to coach with Coach Mark has been a wonderful experience and has made my coaching years a time I will never forget. Thank you, Coach!

Bill Hoffman, Coach

Mark and I became acquainted six years ago through the Barrington Special Olympics basketball program. My daughter was one of the players and Mark was the new volunteer coach. He has led the program unwaveringly since its inception and has been dedicated, encouraging, and kind to both athletes, peer coaches, and parents. Mark has affected the lives of our athletes in so many ways. The growth that we have seen in each athlete’s skill set is truly amazing. It is largely due to Mark’s individualized attention and ability to adapt his coaching to each athlete’s strengths. Mark instills a “finish strong” and “have fun” attitude. It is not uncommon to see our games decided at the last second with a good dose of celebration (dancing, high fives, fist bumps, karaoke) throughout the entire game! 

Mark has coached our athletes as the winners they truly are (not to mention a few Illinois Special Olympics basketball championships along the way!). Barrington is better place with Mark Reinhard in our midst.

Bruce Karsten, Parent

I know Mark through the Special Olympics Basketball program where he has coached my son on Barrington’s team for six seasons. We have had the opportunity to talk at practices, games, team gatherings, and when my son forgot his school ID at practice.

Mark has been devoted to the team, giving of his time and finances for their success as athletes and as young men and women. He works to pair each of them with great matches for non-disabled peer coaches and to have their opportunity to shine at game time. He encourages the more talented players to involve those who struggle more, so that every player and family member walks away with great memories of their time in this program. He is very patient, encouraging, and positive with each athlete. Through his tireless efforts, the team has competed in the state championship four of the last six seasons taking first place twice. Mark arranges for practice games with other teams in the area, as well as big event games such as the annual Barrington-Hersey game where the athletes are introduced to the crowd just like the NBA does, perhaps even just a bit better. For those who haven’t attended a Special Olympics athletic event, you’re missing out. Where else would you see the opposing team cheer for someone on your team, or hand the ball back after a missed shot? Where else would a referee make space for a shorter player to get a better chance at making a basket? Mark makes this possible for our kids.

Gaye Lenihan, Parent

Mark Reinhard is known as “Coach” to my son, Sam, who plays on Barrington’s Special Olympics basketball team. My son, Will, has also had the privilege of being a Student Coach for Mark. When we were trying to get the team off the ground, the one thing we were having trouble finding was a coach. Mark stepped up, admitting that he knew a lot about basketball, but very little about coaching individuals with special needs. He didn’t skip a beat, and has been a true gift to the program, giving his time and his heart.

From day one, Mark took the job as head coach seriously, keeping expectations high. He believes in each participant’s ability to exceed expectations. He leads with compassion and creativity. Mark is always prepared, organized, and coaches to each player’s abilities. I have witnessed players who wouldn’t leave the bench or touch the ball at the beginning of the season making baskets by the end. Regardless of ability, every player’s skills improve and there is a sense of teamwork. No one is left on the bench.

Mark makes the season a valuable experience for all involved. He goes over and above, generously hosting Barrington basketball outings and end-of-the-year celebrations for the families. The best part of each season is the exhibition game that he organizes. It’s just like any varsity basketball game. After being announced on the loud speaker, each player runs out to cheers from the stands full of students and the community. In each face you see the smile and confidence that is the result of Mark’s efforts. It is a court filled with high expectations, dignity, and acceptance. Mark deserves to be recognized not only for the gift he’s been to the Special Olympics families, but for the example he’s set for our community.

Griffin Norman, Former Player

I have been with District 220 Special Olympics since it was formed. Basketball is so great with Coach Mark. He is a great Coach! He teaches us to work hard and to include all teammates to have one great team. Coach Mark makes all of us feel important. Thank you, Coach, for all your time spent with us. Go Broncos!

Shandra Nosal, Special Olympics

Mark began coaching the Barrington 220 Special Olympics basketball team as its first coach six years ago. He has turned out to be the perfect coach for our team. He is an expert at breaking down the skills needed to play basketball in a way that our athletes understand and can follow. Not everyone can do that. Our athletes have improved their game by miles under Mark’s leadership. Mark is patient with the athletes, and they know he will work with them until they learn what he is teaching. They trust him and follow his lead. He accepts where they are at and helps them get to the next level whether it be in ball-handling, shooting, defense, or working together as a team.

Mark has the exact attitude needed to be a Special Olympics coach. SO has its share of ultra-competitive coaches and athletes, but Mark has helped our athletes play as a team and appreciate each other’s skills on the court. The athletes want everyone to get a shot at making baskets and handling the ball. While the team is made up of athletes at many different levels, Mark has helped them see how they complement each other on the court. It is not uncommon at one of our games to see an athlete pass the ball to a teammate even when he could make an easy shot if that athlete hasn’t scored yet. I think that sums up why Mark is an exemplary coach. He has instilled this belief in his athletes that working together and having fun is the reason to play sports. Barrington 220 Special Olympics is lucky to have Mark as a coach.

Mark arranges for practice games with other teams in the area, as well as big event games such as the annual Barrington-Hersey game where the athletes are introduced to the crowd just like the NBA does… For those who haven’t attended a Special Olympics athletic event, you’re missing out. Where else would you see the opposing team cheer for someone on your team, or hand the ball back after a missed shot? – Bruce Karsten

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in our community. For more information, contact QB at publisher@qbarrington.com, or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits By Thomas) at 847-381-7710, or visit www.portraitsbythomas.com.