FIRTH – This isn’t a story about “that” Pelini. Nor is it a story about the “other” Pelini.
Instead, this is a story about a third Pelini. One that did just about everything you could do in a four-year high school span. One that not only earned athletic honors, but academic ones as well. One that stayed strong when it was oh, so easy to run away and hide.
His name is Dominic Pelini, and he’s here to re-define what it means to be a Pelini in the state of Nebraska.
A family decision
Dominic Pelini was 13 years old when everything happened with his dad and uncle. Most Nebraskans know what happened with Carl and Bo. That’s another story for another day. As expected for any teenager, the intense scrutiny his family faced during those few years took a toll on Dominic.
“I was rougher on myself, looking back at it. In retrospect, I feel like it affected me way more than I realized it did at the time,” Pelini said. “I kind of took everything on my shoulders and just kind of went and said, ‘I’m not going to let this affect me in a negative way.’ Because of that, I probably persevered more than I thought on the outside.”
Two years prior, his father, Carl, took a job at Florida Atlantic University. At the time, all three Pelini kids, Nicole, Danielle, and Dominic, were enrolled at Norris schools. This left the Pelini family with a decision: move the entire family to Florida, or keep the family in Nebraska while Carl goes to coach in Florida. They chose the latter.
“We loved Norris, the school district and the people here. He was having a great experience here, and we decided the best thing for him was to not uproot him,” Carl Pelini said. “It was a difficult decision, but looking back at how successful he’s been as a high school student, we made the right decision.”
The decision ended up being perfect for Dominic.
A love of competition
Dominic Pelini loved playing sports growing up, especially football and hockey.
“I had always been a kid who wasn’t afraid to run straight through somebody,” he said.
Norris football coach Jim Jacobsen noticed that right away.
“You could tell he understood football. He was smart on the field. He liked contact and wasn’t afraid of it,” Jacobsen said.
Pelini played both football and hockey throughout his childhood. As a freshman in high school, he played football for the high school team and club hockey for the Lincoln Ice Hockey Association’s Junior Stars.
After going through his freshman year of it, though, Pelini decided to stop playing the two sports due to the demanding schedule the two sports had. He would have football practice for two and a half hours every day, plus an hour and a half of hockey practice three nights a week. With practice being 30 minutes away in Lincoln, the total time committed to hockey would be three hours a day. He also had other obligations, like homework and having a social life outside of school. Realizing the demands of the schedule, Pelini called an audible.
“I just ran out of time, and there was a lot of things that I wanted to do,” Pelini said. “I was a very theatrical kid. I loved musicals and I loved performing. And, I didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I wasn’t loving what I was doing, so I figured ‘okay, I’m done with this. I’ve had my fun with it, but it’s getting to the point where the commitment is not worth it to me.’ It was too much at the time.”
Pelini still wanted to play sports, though, which drew him to going out for the soccer team. After spending two seasons as a goalie for the Titans, Pelini moved to midfield for his senior season. This was the perfect opportunity for Pelini to unleash his physicality to the sport.
“I love being in the field, especially with my aggressive nature and willingness to go out and push through somebody at times. I like being able to affect the game with my charisma and my emotion,” Pelini said. “Just being able to hype up everyone else around me. Being able to actually impact the game out in the field has been really fun.”
His impact on the field was not only felt by his teammates, but his coach as well.
“He’s aggressive. He goes after the ball, especially on set pieces. We just appreciated his leadership. Even though he wasn’t a captain this year, he was one of our field leaders,” Norris soccer coach Arnold Talero said.
Leadership has been a theme throughout Pelini’s life.
More than sports
Moving on from football and hockey was tough for Pelini, but it allowed him to pursue other things that he wanted to do in high school. One of those things was musicals. The allure of performing has always been enticing to Pelini.
“I’ve always been a person who can go out there and make a scene, no matter what it is. I’m not afraid to put myself out there,” Pelini said. “When we started doing musicals in school, I always stepped up. It’s just a lot of fun. I can put myself out there and not be afraid to show emotion.”
Singing has been a big part of Pelini’s high school career. He played the lead character, Harold Hill, in this year’s fall musical, The Music Man. Pelini has also been a member of the Norris choir and show choir teams all four years. He became the choir president, and was an all-state choir singer twice while in high school.
He has also exceeded in other leadership roles at Norris. He was selected to be a member Norris’ National Honor Society and served on the student council board all four years, ultimately leading to him being student council co-president this past year.
One of the biggest projects Pelini lead during his time with student council was the “Mr. Norris” contest. It had never been done at the school before, which made Norris student council sponsor Jane Hansmeyer a little nervous. Pelini wasn’t afraid, though, and saw the whole thing through. The contest was a huge success for Norris.
“He is a phenomenal leader. He is generous with his time and his abilities. He brings attention to what needs attention,” Hansmeyer said. “He’s always in the background doing things that have to be done that people don’t always see getting done. He knows that he’s not perfect and that he has room for improvement. As a teacher, you really like seeing that in a student because it helps in so many ways. I would not want to have lived the last four years in student council without him.”
Looking to the future
It would almost be too easy if Dominic Pelini decided to major in only one thing at college. That’s why he’s going to be a double major, studying both computer science and music at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Four years after one Pelini stepped off campus much maligned, another one will step on to open arms.
Pelini recently earned the Regents Scholarship through UNL, which is “awarded to superior incoming freshmen who are graduates of Nebraska high schools.” The scholarship covers all tuition costs, so long as Pelini maintains a 3.5 GPA and takes at least 24 credit hours per academic year (12 credits/semester). He currently has a 4.0 GPA at Norris and would have needed an 18 percent on his calculus final to lose his ‘A’ grade in the class.
“I’d have to spell my name wrong on the test for that to happen,” Pelini said, laughing.
His parents are excited to see what the future holds for their youngest child at UNL.
“I think he’s going to be very active in stuff, just like he’s been at Norris. Everything comes really easy to him. He’s always been a really kind kid and made sure everybody’s included. He’s off on his own planet at times, but he’s such a joy,” Kelley Pelini, Dominic’s mom, said.
“He’s got great ability. He’s a smart, bright kid with a lot of creativity. I just want him to be happy and have a comfortable life and find something he really enjoys doing, and I think he’ll do that,” Carl Pelini added.
It was a high school career full of accomplishment for Pelini, but that’s the last thing he’ll think of from his time at Norris.
“I won’t remember how much we’ve won in sports. I won’t remember what happened in specific games or if I got mad at this person. I’ll remember the good times I’ve had with friends and the funny jokes we’ve made to each other,” Pelini said. “We’ve been basically laughing our butts off for four years. It’s been a great time.”
This story was originally published in the May 17, 2018 edition of The Voice News.