An eighth grader about to embark on a journey through high school, James Reiner ’14 found himself on the verge of completely abandoning the one sport he had known since age five: soccer. His confidence shattered after being cut from a local team at just 14-years-old, Reiner ignored all initial urges to quit and instead used the setback to fuel his own motivation on the playing field. Reiner’s story is one very familiar to those living in the wide world of sports, as many accomplished athletes can recall at least once being cut from a team or benched. Like all great athletes before him, not willing to accept defeat, Reiner’s steadfast determination would soon lead to the opportunity of a lifetime.
Despite tallying just one assist as a freshman with the Gill St. Bernard’s Knights, Reiner applied what he learned at a premier soccer academy overseas the next summer to vastly improve with 11 goals and five assists his sophomore year. “Persevering and fighting through the pain of not making the team was the best decision I ever made,” says Reiner, who will continue his impressive athletics career—including 47 goals and 16 assists throughout high school—at Princeton University in the fall.
An honors student with a 3.8 GPA in the classroom, Reiner researched numerous Division I schools, including Bucknell University and Lafayette College, before officially setting his sights on the Ivy League university. “The academic opportunities it provided were the real deciding factor,” says Reiner, whose rigorous high school academic schedule includes numerous advanced placement courses in history and the sciences.
While his daily activities can be overwhelming—juggling a demanding course load, managing the waitstaff at a local restaurant and putting in extra hours of practice on the GSB turf—Reiner finds hope in every obstacle he encounters along the way. He is often applauded by his teachers and coaches for imparting this “never say die” attitude onto others. “The way he carries himself, both on and off the field, serves as an excellent model for younger players to emulate,” says Head Varsity Boys’ Soccer Coach Tony Bednarsky. “Even with so many young starters returning to the field next year, James’ outstanding play and leadership will be very difficult to replace here at Gill. He’s a class act, outstanding character and an all-around great person to follow.”
Reiner credits the Gill St. Bernard’s athletics program as having helped him mature into the responsible leader he is today. As a freshman, he too looked toward his elder teammates for guidance and support. “When I first came to Gill my freshman year, the Class of 2013 took me under its wings, not just on the soccer field but in school and as a member of the GSB family,” says Reiner. “After falling just short of the State crown in 2013, they told me I would need to win the State championship as a senior.”
Playing from the heart this past fall, Reiner helped the varsity boys’ soccer program to a NJSIAA Non-Public B State title, Prep B championship and Skyland Conference crown. “No one was expecting us to come back after graduating so many talented seniors last year,” says Reiner. “We went through a losing stretch right before the State tournament but we never put our heads down because we knew we had what it would take.”
The Knights finished 20-3-1 overall behind Reiner, who capped off his outstanding varsity career with the highest number of goals (23) ever scored by a GSB defender in one season. Reiner also secured 1st Team honors at the state, area, prep, county and conference levels. “In my 25 years here at Gill, James is by far one of the best defenders in school history,” says Bednarsky. “Knowing James and the effort he puts forth, I would not be surprised if his college career directly mirrors the academic and athletic accomplishments he has achieved during high school.”