Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Story Shandy Hill Would Have Loved

Sage Reinhart, Pottstown, in foreground, working with youngsters at a Trojan Youth Camp work shop. This year, Reinhart was the quarterback for Pottstown High School's football team.

The Greater Pottstown Foundation has awarded a $30,000 scholarship to a graduating Pottstown High School senior as the result of an essay he wrote about the impact of growing up and going to school in Pottstown.

The Shandy Hill Scholarship, named after the founding editor and publisher of The Mercury, was awarded to Sage Reinhart.

Paul Prince, chairman of the foundation, called Reinhart's essay "intriguing" in the May 30 letter he sent to Pottstown High School Principal Stephen Rodriguez announcing the award.

Reinhart "perceptively comes to understand that quality is not inherently fiar and skill and talent do not necessarily result in advancement," Prince wrote.

"On a different note, I must inform you that Pottstown offered a number of excellent essays," Prince wrote. "In fact, we were confronted with the greatest quantity of quality essays we have seen in many years." 

Reinhart was awarded a $30,000 scholarship to be used over the next four years. 

He competed against senior students from The Hill School, OJR, Pottsgrove and Pottstown.

Here, in its entirety is Reinhart's essay:

“It’s not fair!”

That complaint would earn you laps. And more laps. And probably even more. Coach just let you run until he decided -- or remembered -- to tell you to stop. Even those of us who didn’t pick up stuff too quickly learned pretty fast that “fair” wasn’t a word we used on the football field.
Reinhart received a "Mini-Maxwell this year.

As a Pottstown High School athlete, I played on a level playing field. Once the pads, the uniform, and the helmets went on, we were all the same. The only thing that made us different was what we brought THAT day -- the effort, the skill, and the attitude during THAT practice or THAT game. The past was the past and we only got as far as what we contributed and worked for at that moment.

That focus -- on the practice, on the game -- made everyone equal. We didn’t have to worry about “fair” because we all got the same shot at success, and that was fair in coach’s book.

Up until a little bit ago, I thought those lessons I learned on the playing field pretty much summed up life. With practice, skill, and determination, anyone could accomplish anything. But, in the spring of my senior year, as college acceptances rolled in, my eyes opened to a much larger playing field; and I saw that not all arenas are quite as “even” as the ones I played in. Two of my friends were pretty equal as students. Both excelled in the classroom, both were athletes, both wanted to go to Yale. Only one got admitted.

Now I always heard people talking smack on other people. That was nothing new. But, when my white friend did not get into Yale, and my black friend did -- there was more talk than just the usual trash. It was all about race and how “blacks got everything.” I’ll admit, it didn’t seem fair -- actually, it went against everything that I thought I had learned about life: You get in the game and give it all you have -- and the best team wins. Yale wasn’t even letting my white friend on the field.

As a lifelong Pottstown resident, I have been around diverse groups of people everywhere I’ve gone. In a town that has been transformed by the loss of factories and steel mills, Pottstown has developed a large rental-housing base. Many people with low paying jobs or no jobs at all are attracted to the low-cost housing available here. As a school district, Pottstown has the highest poverty rate in Montgomery County at almost 16%. We have one of the most racially diverse schools in the local area, ranking even statewide in the top 10% of both black / African-American populations as well as Hispanic populations. Having so much diversity around me, I am not accustomed to the levels of resentment that this college admissions process exposed. I began to examine my beliefs.
Reinhart, right, giving a few football lessons.

I come from a family of small business owners. My great grandparents and grandparents on both my mom’s and dad’s sides began businesses in Pottstown. They grew up in this town, made friends, and needed to make their way in this world. Though they didn’t work at any of the foundries, steel or textile mills or machine shops throughout the region, their businesses served the people that worked in these places. A bridal shoppe and a painting business were the ways that my family invested in both Pottstown and in the future. No one handed my family anything. They got in the game by working hard; and they kept up the success by never quitting, never complaining, and never whining about things being “fair.”

My grandfather, in particular, believed in practice, skill, and determination -- just like my football coach. As I heard more and more people talk about how some people didn’t get into Yale and others did, I really began to think. In talking to my brother, I remembered a family story that helped me get a perspective on the situation and to think about what I believe. My grandfather was called “Deacon” by everyone in town. He was an outstanding high school football player and a well-respected person in Pottstown. We always talked about how he had been written about in Earl Davis’s autobiography From Carolina Chain Gangs to Earl of Alaska. Davis had been a criminal, who eventually was in federal prison, but my grandfather Deacon Reinhart gave him a job -- and that was the start of a turn around in Davis’s life, the beginning of his success. Deacon looked at a man who had less than nothing and gave him something -- a chance.

Maybe that is what this admissions thing is -- a chance. Because no matter how else I look at it and no matter how diverse my friends are, one thing remains: Pottstown’s poverty is largely black-faced. When our big businesses and factories closed, many of our white workers relocated. Our changing town provided a chance for many without housing and a good school system to have just that. Maybe Yale was just “upping the ante” -- giving a chance to someone who historically had been denied that by white America.

I have always known that “fair” isn’t a rule in the game of life, just like on the football field. Now, I realize more than ever, that the field is not level -- and it is not because of me or because of any of my friends. It’s not because Pottstown has low-income housing or because we are diverse. The field of life is not level because not everyone comes to the game with the same equipment. Some Americans have been denied the chance for their great-grandparents and grandparents to get in the game. They never HAD a chance to play because of decades of racial discrimination, exploitation, and outright slavery. If we as a society expect everyone to be able to compete, we have to make sure that we give chances to those who might be different than we are. Some, like Earl Davis, might have issues that prevent them from being “employable,” but given the opportunity might be able to contribute significant things to society. Others might find that decades of lost opportunity means that they need both a “hand out” and a “hand up.” Either way, I know two things: one, I am glad to have had the chance to be educated and trained in a color-blind system, the Pottstown School District; and, two, I am realizing that equipping people to play the game might not be as uniform as some think. Everyone deserves a chance -- that chance might just look different for different people.

Reinhart, No. 9, with his fellow Trojans.


  1. Way to go Sage! I, too, am proud to have been born, bred, and educated in Pottstown, but I couldn't have said it better than you. You are wise beyond your years!

  2. Great easay and great widsdom in a young kid. I'm a former Pottstown resident and alumnI. This is refreshingto see such great young talent on and off the field come from US (Pottstown grads). Congrats to Sage and GOD SPEED !

  3. May your kindness and wisdom stay with you all your life. An outstanding essay and understanding of life. Knew your dad and grandparents when he was an elementary schooler. He must be so proud and should be.