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When, as a young coach, Rob Rafeh met Anderson Valley High athletic director Robert Pinoli, he took note of what he saw as an honest, hardworking man.

And then he saw him scraping gum from the gym floor with a wooden tongue depressor and his definition of hardworking went through a minor recalibration.

“A lot of times, you look at an athletic director, someone who’s been there that long, they tend to grow into a figurehead role,” Rafeh said. “It’s ‘Hey, you need to go take care of this’ and ‘You need to take care of that.’ You never saw that from Robert.”

When Rafeh brought a basketball team up from the Bay Area to the 60-year-old Redwood Classic varsity boys basketball tournament, he’d see Pinoli, who has spent the past 30 years teaching, coaching and acting as athletic director, flipping burgers in the snack bar, scheduling games and paying the refs. He even mopped the floor, but that was an unscheduled duty.

“We were playing a game and the roof was leaking,” Rafeh recalled.

So between the action, Pinoli would dart onto the court, mop the floor and hustle back to the sideline. He did it all night long.

I joked that if Pinoli were really devoted to his job and to Anderson Valley, he would have been on that roof in the rain, stopping the leak with chewing gum.

It wouldn’t have surprised him one bit, Rafeh said before telling me another Pinoli story.

One year at the Redwood Classic, Rafeh was admiring the new tiles in the locker room, new toilets, paint job in school colors — the works.

“I said, ‘Wow Robert, you must have done some good” to have gotten all this, he said. “He kind of smiled and laughed and he said ‘Who do you think did that over the summer? He said ‘Last year was re-staining the bleachers, this year was the bathroom.’ ”

It is for those contributions, small and large but always crucial, to Anderson Valley athletics and Anderson Valley Junior Senior High School as a whole that Pinoli, 64, was named California’s Athletic Director of the Year by the California State Athletic Directors Association in Reno (I know, Nevada, go figure) last month.

“Oftentimes small schools get overlooked when it comes to these big awards,” Rafeh, a member of CSADA’s executive board, said. “People look at programs and wins and history and championships, but they rarely look at the small school where the AD is taking apart the bleachers in the summer to stain them.”

So much of what an AD does is mundane. But so much of what an AD is absolutely key to letting coaches coach, kids play and administrators not worry. It’s a largely thankless job, so the CSADA polls reps from the 10 sections across California to see who is going above the call of duty.

Pinoli hears the call of duty in his sleep, it seems.

“We make sure the kids have schedules, make sure the kids have funding,” Pinoli said. “We have a fantastic booster club and support of the people in the valley. It’s hours at fundraisers. I spend a lot of nights in the gym and football field and soccer field and baseball field. It’s an all-year-round job.”

On the move again

St. Vincent’s leagues

2016-17 – North Central League I

2015-16 – Bay Football League

2014-15 – NCL II

2013-14 – NCL II/Bay Football League

2012-13 – NCL II/Bay Football League

2011-12 – NCL II

2010-11 – NCL I-South

2009-10 – NCL I-South

2008-09 – NCL I-South

2007-08 – NCL I-South

2006-07 – NCL I-South

2005-06 – NCL I-South

2004-05 – NCL II

And turns out, it’s nearly a lifetime job with Pinoli.

Pinoli is an Anderson Valley-ite through and through.

He was raised there; he went to his first Redwood Classic when he was 5 and played in the tourney when he was in high school. He went to school there and suited up for the Panthers and after graduating from Chico State, he came back to teach and coach. Then he signed up to be AD.

“I just love the valley,” he said. “I just always wanted to go into teaching and that was my roots there. I never did want to leave.”

“Sports was a big thing in my life when I went there,” he said. “I wanted to keep that up for the kids over the years.”

Pinoli said he played a key role in bringing eight-man football to Anderson Valley so that kids could still play the game, even when enrollment shrank. He also oversaw the introduction of the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, and the tennis team.

Active in the Coastal Mountain Conference, which includes 27 schools in five counties, Pinoli has helped other small schools transition to eight-man football.

But it might be the burger flipping and snack bar that is his most important role.

Of the approximately 230 students in seventh through 12th grade who attend Anderson Valley Junior Senior High, 80 percent meet the federal definition of poor. Pinoli said a key to everything he does is fundraising and getting financial support so anyone who wants to suit up for the Panthers can.

“The best part of the job is the glow of the kids when they are playing,” he said. “It’s just a love of the sports and the kids, to let them have what I was able to have and appreciate in my life.”

Rafeh, now director of athletics at Bentley School in Lafayette, said Pinoli is a guy who works so hard and does so much, he practically pulls his peers along in his wake.

“That’s what you took away from Robert all the time,” he said. “If it needed to be done, he did it. It forced you as a young person to say ‘Hey I’m going to grab a towel, too.’ If he is still doing it, how am I going to say no?”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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