Jim Paleno’s PaliHi Golf Teams Are Winners

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

Coach Jim Paleno started coaching basketball at Palisades High School in 1983 as an assistant under Jerry Marvin, a position he held until 1990.

“Steve Kerr was on our team that year,” said Paleno, referring to the guard who went on to win five NBA championship rings as a player and now two more as coach of the Golden State Warriors. “I was also fortunate to work with Derek Strong for three years until he graduated in 1986,” and later played for the Lakers, Celtics and Magic.”

The special education teacher became PaliHi head coach in 1991, after a year of coaching at Santa Monica College. When Paleno stepped down in 2012, he had a 416-179 record in one of the toughest basketball leagues in the country—the Western League, featuring perennial City Section champions Westchester and Fairfax.

“Olin Simplis graduated in 1993 from Pali, played at UC Riverside and is now one of the most highly respected trainers of professional athletes,” Paleno said, noting that D’Andre Bell graduated from Pali in 2005, attended Georgia Tech and later played in the NBA Development League. A 2010 graduate, Garrett Nevels, attended the University of Hawaii and is playing professionally in Spain.

“For me, the most important aspect of coaching basketball is trying to get a group of individuals to play together as a unit,” Paleno said. “The ability to ‘mold’ young men from diverse backgrounds into a ‘family’ on and off the court is a truly beautiful thing.”

In 1997, after the basketball season ended, Paleno decided to resurrect the PaliHi golf program, which at one time enjoyed “a rich tradition of excellence.” In fact, the Dolphins won the City Section championship 11 times between 1968 and 1986.

Western League champions included freshman Mariana Paleno, senior Sophia Eberlein, freshman Lillia Weissmuller, sophomores Melanie Matayoshi and Abby Brown and senior Carly Weitz. Not pictured was senior Camila Paleno.

Western League champions included Palisades High School freshman Mariana Paleno, senior Sophia Eberlein, freshman Lillia Weissmuller, sophomores Melanie Matayoshi and Abby Brown and senior Carly Weitz. Not pictured was senior Camila Paleno.

“The first year we had to scramble to field a team,” Paleno said, “but we were lucky to have a very talented junior golfer already on our campus.”

Burley Stamps (who is now a PGA teaching pro at the Riviera Country Club) was that student.“He was instrumental in leading the development of our current program,” Paleno said. “While the team struggled for a couple of years, Burley was able to win the L.A. City Individual Championship two years in a row.”

In the 20 years that Paleno has coached golf at Pali, the team has garnered 14 league titles and nine City team championships (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017). In addition to Stamps, Edward Turner (1999) and Ray Yang (2016 and 2017) have won individual city championships.

Paleno explained that a team must finish first or second in the city finals in order to qualify for the SoCal Regional Tournament. His team has advanced to the regionals 12 times.

“While it is very competitive at the City Finals, the regional tournament features the top 124 golfers from San Diego to Fresno,” Paleno said. “So it’s a very difficult thing to qualify for the State tournament, but Ray Yang did just that!”

Playing in the 54-golfer field at San Gabriel Country Club, Yang shot 81,which put him in a four-way tie for 46th. Hidetoshi Yoshihara won with a six-under 65.

The Palisades High golf team qualified for the Regional tournament and included (left to right) Max Hagar, Will Holbrow, Ethan Rautbort, Jason Simon, Ray Yang and Grant Ebner. Coach James Paleno is in back.

The Palisades High School golf team qualified for the regional tournament and included (left to right) Max Hagar, Will Holbrow, Ethan Rautbort, Jason Simon, Ray Yang and Grant Ebner. Coach James Paleno is in back.

“We were undefeated in league, won our league finals and finished first in the city finals,” Paleno said. “Our only ‘loss’ all year was at the regional tournament. “While disappointing to perform below our expectations at the Regionals, it was a fantastic season for all involved.”

This year’s team was heavy with seniors: Grant Ebner and Will Holbrow (University of Michigan), Ethan Rautbort (Wisconsin), Kaelen Nettleship (UC Berkeley) and Jason Simon and Ray Yang (UC Irvine).

“These talented young men worked hard in the classroom and on the course,” Paleno said.

The girls team, which Paleno also coaches, went undefeated in league, finished fourth in the city finals and for the first time in school history, qualified a player, junior Melanie Matayoshi, for the SoCal Regional tournament.

“There wasn’t a girls team from 2009 to 2014. The program ended because the previous coach could not generate any interest,” Paleno said, but with more time on his hands after he stopped coaching basketball, “I decided to try and restart it.”

He was initially worried about having enough players for a team, but 25 girls tried out. Paleno could only keep 14 on the team and many of them were beginners. Finding clubs was also an issue.

“The following year, the Booster Club came through by donating a number of bags of brand new women’s clubs,” Paleno said.

This year’s team had 26 girls in the program, including three seniors: Sophia Eberlein (UC Berkeley), Camila Paleno (the coach’s niece, who will attend UCLA) and Carly Weitz (Cal Poly).

What’s the most difficult aspect of coaching golf?

“It can be a frustrating game,” Paleno said. “It can also be a rewarding sport when one can control both the physical and emotional challenges that arise on every hole.

“In some ways, golf can be analogous to life,” he continued. “It is important to face the challenges that we see every day and controlling one’s emotions in the face of adversity is beneficial to overcoming those challenges.

“We try to instill in our players the ability to stay calm at all times (whenever possible),” Paleno said. “As the great John Wooden used to preach, it is critical that one not get too high, or too low with one’s emotions. Remaining ‘centered’ and ‘in the moment,’ is critical to playing good golf.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *