CAPE GIRARDEAU — Notre Dame High School softball coach Jeff Graviett was wrong about a girl named Courtney Reinagel. Courtney made sure of that. He told Reinagel after her sophomore year that he didn't foresee her becoming a starter for the Bulldogs softball team. She could remain on the team as a role player, but if she wanted to be starter, he didn't think it could happen.
"I wanted to prove him wrong, and it gave me the endurance to go out and do it," she said.
Graviett wanted to be honest with Reinagel because he didn't want her investing an entire summer of practice and games only to be disappointed when the high school season rolled round.
"It really has to do with her physical limitations," Graviett said. "And you really don't want to tell her that because she's a kid that doesn't feel like she has any limitations, that she's as normal as the next person. But I felt like it was going to come down to that and she wasn't going to be able to overcome that."
Reinagel was born with a left arm that extends just past the elbow. She started playing softball when she was 5 years old but considered stepping away from the sport she loved. "She came home and shared the news with me, and I obviously was upset with it," said her father, Jeff Reinagel. "I respected his opinion, but deep down inside I know she was capable of doing it because I've had her for many years and have coached her and worked with her and I know she had the ability.
"I was thrilled to death that she decided to use it as a motivation factor. It's actually worked out for the best."
Courtney Reinagel refused to give up. She continued working and tried to improve. She played sparingly as a junior and earned sporadic playing time at the beginning of this season before emerging as the Bulldogs' starting right fielder.
"I just hate quitting," she said. "I hate people telling me I can't do something and feeling like I'm different."
Graviett said anyone who thinks she's been given the position out of charity is mistaken. "I always tell kids I try to do what's best for the team," he said. "That's what has to come first. And she's what's best for us in right field. Regardless of what I thought two years ago, where she would be, she's earned that spot right now. You can be nothing but amazed by her and grateful for her."
Courtney Reinagel plays with her glove on her right hand. When she fields a ball, she quickly tucks the glove under her left arm, grabs the ball and fires it back to the infield.
"A lot of people don't even notice that she's playing one-handed out there," Jeff Reinagel said. "It's not that noticeable because she doesn't really struggle with it. The exchange between ball and glove, she does that well, but she's had plenty of years of practice."
Courtney Reinagel rarely bats for the Bulldogs, but that doesn't mean she's a sure out. She collected seven hits in her 18 at-bats for a .389 average. She also drove in a pair of runs and scored six times.
"There's not much power there, so they let others hit for me," she said.
Softball is an important part of the Reinagel family. Many of Courtney Reinagel's uncles and cousins play, and her father said he started figuring out how to pass on his passion for the sport to her when she was about 5 years old.
Courtney Reinagel played growing up but never stood out as one of the best players. Her father wondered if she'd be able to play at the high school level until she was about 12 years old, which is when she played in the Babe Ruth softball World Series with the local Heartland Nationals team.
"She had a good tournament out there and was named to the all-defensive team," Jeff Reinagel said. "At that point, I was thinking she might not be able to play high school softball. But after that tournament out there, I thought maybe there is a way she could do this. I said she may just be good enough to stay with this if her attitude is positive and she puts the work in."
Courtney Reinagel is used to people staring or doubting her ability to excel on the softball field. They only strengthen her desire to succeed.
"It brings down your self-esteem whenever people stare at you and they question your ability," she said. "But it gives you that endurance to go out there and prove them wrong. It's kind of that smirk that you did it."
Players, parents or coaches occasionally will approach her after a game and share how inspired they were to watch her play.
"It's the biggest compliment I ever get," she said. "It just reminds me how much I love this sport and how much I love doing this."
She uses softball to reinforce her self-confidence. If something happens during the day where she feels limited or different from others, she heads to the softball field to work out her frustration.
"If I'm having a down day, I come out here and remind myself that I can do everything I want if I put my mind to it," she said.
Courtney Reinagel won a state championship ring with the Bulldogs last year, but she didn't receive any playing time in the postseason. She can't wait to get a chance to earn a second ring, this time as a starter.
"Last year I didn't get to play in the final four at all, and I was really disappointed with what I did with my season and how I didn't get time," she said. "But I wanted to come out here and prove them wrong. I'm glad we got this far so I can go out there and enjoy my last year and actually end on a good note."
Her proud father plans to be in the stands to watch his daughter play in this year's final four. He's watched her master what are simple tasks for others, like tying her own shoelaces and putting her hair in a ponytail. He and his wife spent countless hours playing catch in the backyard with their daughter. There was no way he was going to miss the last two games of her senior year.
"It's just a thrill to see that she's overcome those obstacles and was able to compete," he said. "The biggest thrill I get is when I see her on the field and she's happy. You can tell by her facial expressions that she's really having a good time."