Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Former Madera Coyote Athlete of the Year Kenny Paolinelli stands in the gym where a banner, inset, bears his name. He completed a circle, returning to Madera High to teach, nine years after graduating from the school.
Ten years ago, Kenny Paolinelli was sitting in the classrooms at Madera High School. Fast forward 10 years and Paolinelli is right back where he was, albeit as a teacher in a position he never thought he would be in.
“I never thought I would be back as a teacher,” he said. “Here I am back and I love it.”
Paolinelli, a 2007 graduate, is one of the best athletes to come out of Madera in some time. He is one of the very select few to have played in four All-Star games — City/County All-Star baseball, football and basketball and the North/South Rotary Football All-Star games — and was recruited in football, basketball and baseball.
“It feels like home being back,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m going to continue to give back to the kids here.”
Paolinelli’s road away from Madera began at Reedley College where he played football for two years and baseball for a year. In football, he was the kicker, wide receiver, quarterback, fullback and tight end.
One day, while working out at Reedley, he got the chance to fulfill a dream — play Div. I college football.
“The UTEP (University of Texas-El Paso) coach was walking through the office and saw me working out,” Paolinelli said. “He said, ‘That’s a big dude, let’s see his film.’ They put my film on and he really liked me. The rest is history.
“I just knew my dream was to play Division I football,” Paolinelli said. “That was my goal. Any opportunity I had, that’s where I was going to go.”
Paolinelli was only able to play one season at UTEP. He tore a meniscus cartilage before the season started and played the season on it. He played tight end and was on all of the special teams. He got to kick off in the last game of the year and recorded more touchbacks in one game than the team’s regular kicker did all year.
“I still had my steel-toed shoes (Former Madera Coyote head coach Randy) Blankenship bought me,” Paolinelli said. “I kept telling my coach all year that I could kick. I told him that I was better than this kid. Finally, that kid flew back home to California, without notice. Coach then said, ‘All right, let me see what you can do.’ After the game, the coach told me that I made him look bad. The other coaches were wondering why I wasn’t kicking all year.”
After the year at UTEP, he got a scholarship to play at Western Montana University.
“When I was there, I was doing spring workouts, I ended up tearing my meniscus there,” he said.
“So I just decided to call it quits.”
That was in 2010. Since then, Paolinelli returned to Madera and has been a coach with the Coyotes’ baseball and football programs.
“When I got back from Montana, I took the EMT course at Madera Adult School,” he said. “I started doing nursing prerequisites to be a nurse.”
Then, Paolinelli hit a crossroads. He could either continue schooling and head into the medical profession like his family — his mother, Karen, is the COO at Madera Community Hospital and is a nurse practitioner; his brother, Kirk, is the director of nurses at a skilled nursing facility; and his sister, Kristi, is a trauma nurse at Community Regional Medical Center — or he could do something else that would let him continue to be a coach.
He decided to coach.
“I didn’t want to give up coaching,” he said. “I was at that point to where I was going to have to give up coaching. I decided I could not give up coaching because it’s my passion.”
Paolinelli continued to coach at Madera High and applied for the head football coaching position.
“It came down to me and Yosef Fares for this year and Yosef got the job,” Paolinelli said. “He called me up after and offered me a job to come on board.”
Paolinelli initially turned the job down and went to coach football at Clovis West with help from former Madera athletic director Joey Aiello, who is the Clovis Unified School District’s director of athletics.
“Yosef asked me to be the offensive coordinator and I told him no because they said I needed more experience,” Paolinelli said. “I got a job over there to work on campus.”
However, news of Paolinelli working in Clovis Unified didn’t sit well with Madera High School principal Alan Hollman.
“I don’t know what happened, but Mr. Hollman called me into his office,” Paolinelli said. “I thought I was in trouble. He told me they wanted me in Madera and wanted me to stay in the community. We want to do what we can to help you and we think we can get you a job. Cheryl Sisil has been intricate in me staying in Madera. She’s the one that helped me and mentored. She’s been so awesome.”
Paolinelli is the ROP medical careers and medical terminology teacher at Madera High, working on a designated credential from Fresno Pacific University.
“I have been working the past five years in the ER at Madera Community Hospital,” Paolinelli said. “They used my work experience there for my designated credential. I was a scribe. I followed the doctor’s around and did all their medical charting. I recorded the vital information on the patients’ charts.”
Now that Paolinelli is on campus, he hopes to help the athletes find their own careers after high school, like he did.
“I was able to help Kris Bueno through his recruiting process and get him signed,” Paolinelli said. “That’s why I’m here, to help kids. We have great athletes coming through Madera, but no one knows how to help them get them out. That’s one of my goals is to get kids out.”
Paolinelli is coaching the quarterbacks and helping the offense with the football team and he’s gaining valuable experience working with Fares.
“It’s nice have Yosef here and I’m learning some defense here,” Fares said. “He told me there was no doubt that I want you here. He made a spot for me.”
Paolinelli is one of the few teachers on the campus that can point to the wall in Joe Flores Gym and show students his name as a Madera High School Senior Athlete of the Year.
“It feels like home to me,” he said. “It’s the same campus, but it’s weird being a teacher. It’s kind of cool because I’m back in my hometown. It just feels good being back and giving back to the school I went to and the kids in my community.”