GIBBON, Neb. — Watch Rylee Reinertson's drive.
Put him on the tee box of a par 5 with a driver in his hands and see him send the ball sailing nearly 400 yards down the fairway. That's something that caught the golf coaches' eyes at Oklahoma, where Reinertson will play this fall.
Reinertson's drives on the basketball court are just as impressive. The Gibbon senior guard fills up a stat sheet by doing a little of everything for the Buffaloes — assists, steals, blocked shots. And, oh yeah, he can put the ball in the hoop, as he's among the greatest scorers in state history.
“He needs about one inch to get his shot off. He's seen box-and-one, he's seen everything,” said Ravenna coach Paul Beranek, who has been trying to slow Reinertson for four years. “In one sense, it's a joy to watch a great basketball player. In another sense, it's refreshing that we won't have to guard him anymore.”
But want to really see Reinertson's drive? Watch as he covers the hearing aids that he's worn most of his life with bands to keep sweat away from the expensive devices. He changes those bands during games to keep them dry.
Then watch as he blocks out what doctors told him and his parents when he was young — no contact sports. One knock to the head, they said, could cause him to lose all of his hearing. Watch as the thrill to play, to win, comes out and trumps this warning.
Now that's a drive.
* * *
That drive has led to many, many drives.
Last year, Reinertson helped Gibbon reach the state tournament for the first time since 1981 and for the second time since 1964. Early this month, he scored 28 points as the Buffaloes defeated Doniphan-Trumbull 46-44 in the final of the LouPlatte Conference tournament, Gibbon's first league title since 1987.
As the regular season enters its final week, Reinertson has 2,163 points, good for 12th on the state scoring list. He's within range of Kurt Lauer's school record of 2,247 points, which was set in 1964 and is the sixth-highest total in state history.
Reinertson gets his points in a variety of ways.
Armed with a quick-release jumper, he has made 295 career 3-pointers. That's the second most in state history. At 6-foot-3, he can post up smaller players. And he scores plenty in transition — playing the point on Gibbon's 1-3-1 half-court defense, he's become the school's all-time leader in steals. He's also the school's career leader in assists.
“I give him credit that he's adapted and competed at a level that he has,” said his dad and Gibbon's coach, Paul.
Then there are the long drives.
Reinertson is a two-time Nebraska Golf Association junior player of the year. He placed fourth in the Junior PGA Championship in 2012, and last year he tied for fourth at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championship at Torrey Pines South.
“Rylee is one of the best athletes you will ever find in golf,” Oklahoma golf coach Ryan Hybl said. “Not only is he a great golfer, but he is awesome to watch on the basketball court. He is also a tremendous student, and we expect big things from Rylee throughout his career.”
For his part, Rylee says he's trying to enjoy every minute before his basketball career ends. Maybe bring Gibbon its first state title.
“It's definitely something I'm going to miss a lot,” he said, “but I've pretty much given it everything I've had the past 3 ½ years and I'm hoping to make this last year special.”
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That drive was developed by his family's many, many drives.
Mom was a hoop star. Carolyn played college basketball at Kearney State in the '80s.
Dad was a hoop star. Paul also played for the Lopers. Paul, who once scored 59 points in a game while at Ravenna, has been the boys head basketball coach at Gibbon for more than 20 years.
Older brothers were hoop stars. Jordan and Josh played for their dad, combining to score more than 2,000 points in high school. Both went on to play golf at Nebraska.
Carolyn remembers her older sons playing in a weekend basketball tournament when Jordan was in eighth grade and Josh in sixth. Rylee, a second-grader, was out there in the pregame layup line with them.
“The older he got, I was probably more concerned about the contact,” Carolyn said. “Golf was a natural fit, but where Paul loved basketball, I loved basketball and the other boys loved basketball, he wanted to be there.”
Even after doctors said no.
Carolyn believes Rylee started losing his hearing when he was 15 to 18 months old. She said a high fever when he was little could have done damage, but they never received a definitive explanation for the hearing loss. By age 3, Rylee was wearing hearing aids. And Paul and Carolyn remember the doctor's recommendation.
“The specialist we went to when he was young said no contact sports,” Paul said. “They said no football, probably no basketball. Golf and track would be great, but football and basketball would be something that would be a risk.”
Carolyn said there's a competitive trait that runs through the family. And although Rylee was competing in the spring and summer on the golf course, he didn't want to miss out on the basketball court.
“He wanted to play awfully bad, and I guess it's a risk we've been willing to take,” Paul said. “An elbow to the head or hitting your head on the floor, you could lose your hearing.
“There's risks in everything you do, but I guess we decided as a family we were willing to take that risk. We're almost through,” added Paul as he rapped his knuckles on the wooden table in front of him.
Rylee has mostly gone without incident. Gibbon calls out plays with hand signals, as Rylee doesn't hear well in loud environments. A hearing aid has fallen to the court just once. As an opposing coach, Ravenna's Beranek said the devices are something you don't even notice once the game starts.
Neither do referees, it seems.
During a game last season, Rylee and an opposing player went after a loose ball. As Rylee was going out of bounds, he tried to throw the ball off his opponent. The problem was that the whistle had blown, and Rylee was assessed a technical for playing after the whistle.
“Sometimes he doesn't hear the whistle and keeps playing,” said senior teammate Dakota Kenton, whom Carolyn credits with always making sure Rylee knows what offense and defense the Buffaloes are in.
Rylee sheepishly smiles about it all.
“I think of it as God just created me different,” he said. “Everyone is created different, and I just happen to have hearing aids.”
* * *
That drive could lead Reinertson, who carries a 3.97 grade-point average and ranks No. 1 in his class, to wherever he wants to go.
A state basketball championship next month. Success in golf at the college level. Professional golf. All possible.
Consider all of the work he's done to get where he is. The time practicing his jump shot. The time at the driving range and on the practice green.
Then consider all that he's done not to let his hearing loss stop him from getting to where he wants to go.
The hearing aids. Making arrangements at school — Rylee wears an auditory device around his neck that is connected with a microphone worn by his teachers. And, of course, blocking out the fear of one misstep on the basketball court.
He's also learned to read lips. That might not seem like much, but maintaining attention while doing this is essential. And can be fatiguing. His dad said hearing specialists told them that Rylee spends five to 10 times more energy than someone with normal hearing just figuring out what a person is saying.
“Maybe that helps him with his focus, to block things out,” Beranek said. “Maybe you take a lemon and make lemonade out of it.”
Now that's a drive.