Thursday, May 24, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Chaparral High asked friends of coach Paul Nihipali to come by the school to record a video for his big award.
Fifteen former players, coaches and friends showed up to sing the coach’s praises. It showed Nihipali was a more-than-deserving recipient of the Hank Greenspun Award, given to a figure whose career improved the community.
Nihipali retired as football coach after this season. He was elevated to the position four years ago after 16 years as an assistant, and led the perennial losing program to consecutive state semifinal appearances. The Cowboys hadn’t won a playoff game since 1991.
More important, as the well-wishers proclaimed, he was the father figure many students at the turnaround school lacked, treating players like he does his five children and 26 grandchildren. “For the kids to still come and visit him after all these years is a testament to who he is as a person,” assistant coach Jon Monga says.
Will Hernandez, the second-round pick of the New York Giants in the NFL Draft a few days earlier, arrived for the video and went directly to greet Janie Nihipali, the coach’s wife.
The Nihipalis came out of pocket to feed players over the years and didn’t stop when they graduated, with coach always springing for a meal during a college break.
What many didn’t realize was the 63-year-old also worked a full-time job as a package handler at the airport, meaning the generosity was a sacrifice for the well-being of the student-athletes. “If you want to get something from a kid, you have to open up to them, you have to be honest with them,” the coach says. “Sometimes they don’t like what they hear, but that’s life. They have to take the good with the bad.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.