Brenden Kane never wanted to leave his infant daughter. His mom told him he had no choice. His grandfather, who helped raise him, agreed. So when Kane’s parents moved from Burlington, Wis., to Youngtown, Ariz., 2 1/2 years ago, Kane went with them. But he also left with the promise to return in two years when he turned 18, so he could visit his daughter, Leeanne, on weekends.
Brenden Kane never wanted to leave his infant daughter.
His mom told him he had no choice. His grandfather, who helped raise him, agreed.
“I told him there was nothing I could do,” Craig Point said. “Until he was 18, he’d have to do what they say.”
So when Kane’s parents moved from Burlington, Wis., to Youngtown, Ariz., 2 1/2 years ago, Kane went with them. But he also left with the promise to return in two years when he turned 18, so he could visit his daughter, Leeanne, on weekends.
“From the second she was born, she’s been everything to me,” said Kane, a senior at Polo High School. “If I’m going to do something stupid, I think about how she is going to feel about it when she’s old enough to make decisions.”
But because Kane chose to be near his daughter — as opposed to following a court order — IHSA executive director Marty Hickman ruled Monday that Kane had to give up his second love.
Kane has played baseball since his grandpa first started tossing him a rag ball at age 3. His dad coached his baseball teams from Little League until high school. It was the one way he connected with his dad, the best way he connected with his grandpa and the one sport he always wanted to play.
“I’m always looking forward to baseball,” said Kane, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound pitcher. “Wake up, eat, play baseball. Practice, go home, sleep, wake up, play baseball. That’s it.
“It’s a constant thing for me. If I’m not playing, I’m playing a baseball video game. I’m doing something with baseball. It’s never off my mind. I’ll do anything just to get to baseball.”
He can’t get to baseball in Polo. IHSA rule 3.031.1 says transfer students must “reside full time with their parents, custodial parent or guardian appointed by a court” or attend a school for at least two years before becoming eligible.
Rule 3.031.4 adds that: “In all other cases, students shall not participate until a ruling on their eligibility is made by the Executive Director.”
Hickman ruled no.
“It’s a pretty restrictive rule,” Hickman said in a phone interview. “In order for him to be eligible, he has to be in a situation completely beyond his control. He’s not. It’s clearly a decision he has made and not a situation he’s been forced into.”
But it’s a choice to be closer to his daughter.
“If he really wanted to move closer to his daughter,” Hickman said, “he could move to Wisconsin.”
“But my grandpa lives in Polo,” Kane said,
And Kane’s grandpa has been his de facto guardian most of his life. Just not the court-ordered guardian the IHSA requires.
Kane said his dad “would drink weekends and fight.” When he was born, Craig Point gave his daughter and her husband “30 days to get it right.” When they didn’t, Point brought his month-old grandson to Illinois to live with him.
“Grandpa got on a plane and came and got me,” Kane said. “He was the one who raised me when I was younger. While my parents were down in Arizona doing their thing, I was up with my grandparents. After my grandma passed away, that’s when my parents came back into the picture.”
They moved into Point’s house in Round Lake Beach to help Point care for Kane’s grandma, who was dying of cancer. Kane was 6 at the time. They all lived together at Round Lake Beach for another three years, before Kane moved with his parents to Iowa, Wisconsin and finally Arizona.
“But no matter where I was, I was always coming back to Grandpa whenever I had the chance,” Kane said. “If it was a three-day weekend, on that Friday night, I would be there. My grandpa has always been close to me.”
“He’s basically lived with me his whole life,” said Point, a truck driver who moved to Polo seven years ago. “He’s always been around. Whenever he’d get a school break, I’d either send him a plane ticket or drive my semi out there and get him.”
Kane misses his 17-year-old sister, Nicole, and eighth-grade brother, Ryan. He keeps in touch with his parents. He has to. His mom made him promise before he moved to Polo on August 8 that he wouldn’t “put me out of your life now that you have a daughter.”
But he doesn’t feel like he’s left home.
More like he’s returned home to live with the man who raised him.
And to be a man who helps raise his own daughter.
“I don’t understand why they (the IHSA) say no,” Kane said. “It’s not just for me. I’m doing something to benefit Leeanne. My being close to my daughter is my priority. You have to be there for your child.”
“It’s a nice thing that he wants to be close,” Hickman said, “but there is nothing preventing him from living with his parents and playing baseball in Arizona. That’s the part I keep coming back to.”
Polo principal Andy Siegfried and Milledgeville/Polo baseball coach Jeff Sands were blindsided by Hickman’s ruling.
“You have to give a kid credit for wanting to start doing the right thing instead of punishing him for it,” Sands said. “He moved from Arizona to be a man and step up to the plate and take care of his responsibilities.
“It would have been easier for him to stay in Arizona. To punish a young man goes against what the IHSA is saying to us, talking about sportsmanship and trying to make young student-athletes more responsible. That’s what Brenden is trying to do. There is no bigger responsibility than that.”
“There is something,” Hickman said, “that is more responsible.”
Yes, but the chance for that ended almost four years ago.
Kane and Leeanne’s mom “don’t get along” except for agreeing to let Kane visit Leeanne and paying his $106 a month child support. Kane said he makes the 90-minute drive to Burlington, Wis., almost every weekend, where he loves to take her to the mall, roughhouse with her or simply watch TV.
“She loves it when I lay on the floor and do the airplane-type deal,” Kane said. “Or I will pick her up and do a flip with her. She’ll do it for hours if I have the energy.”
But she won’t see him play high school baseball. No one will, unless the IHSA changes its mind.
“There’s no reason for me not to play,” Kane said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
Kane played varsity baseball for a 3,500-student school in Youngtown, a suburb of Phoenix, but he’s no star. “He throws in the low 80s and has a good curveball,” Sands said. Nor did he transfer to a star team.
“We just got beat in our first game by Pearl City,” Sands said. “He’s not coming to a team that’s looking to win a state title. We graduated eight of our nine starters last year. I don’t see what seems fishy about it.”
Nothing seems fishy. Hickman admitted saying no to Kane was more about saying no to other athletes who might want to switch schools by moving in with a grandparent.
“There’s a much bigger picture out there,” Hickman said. “We don’t want it to be easy for guardianship to be transferred. Tons of people would abuse that.
“But they can appeal to our board of directors. The board has more discretion than I do and may see it differently. It’s happened many times before.”
It should happen once again.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org