TRIPOLI — When Marquise Paino walks down a street in Tripoli, a town of a little more than 1,300 residents, it is not uncommon for someone to stop their vehicle, roll down the window and greet Paino.
It was not long ago when Paino would be walking to or from Bowen High School in a rough neighborhood in south Chicago and could hear gunshots all around him.
Paino got so numb to those daily gunshots that he stopped running from them. That is until a bullet struck him.
“It used to be fun to go outside,” Paino said of his old home. “Then it got worse ... especially after people began to make Youtube videos, videos on social media ... then it got real bad.”
Fortunately for Paino, the gunshot he suffered was a grazing blow, and on a night he recalls many people were shot and killed, he was in and out of the hospital in hours.
Those memories are not so distant for the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Paino, who starred for Tripoli’s 8-man football team this fall, rushing for 1,478 yards and 28 touchdowns while catching 16 passes for 330 yards and four more scores.
Paino is also a standout wrestler, finishing sixth at 195 in Class 1A in Illinois last spring for Bowen, his last athletic feat before moving to Tripoli to be with his brother, Maurice.
Life in Iowa has been quite different for Paino. He now has a driver’s license, and people run up to him for high fives instead of chasing him from one neighborhood to the next because they feel he is a threat to their territory.
Deemed homeless by the state of Illinois in August, Paino had to conduct a phone interview with 10 superintendents across the state during an appeal process to waive the 90-day transfer rule and allow him to participate in sports.
“It was that panel of 10 that decided Paino was allowed to play for us right away in August,” Tripoli head football coach Tom Nuss said.
While his living arrangement didn’t work out with his brother, the town of Tripoli stepped up. He now lives with head boys’ basketball coach Joe Urbanek and his family.
“He has kind of been a blessing to our family,” Urbanek said. “My three boys think the world of him. He treats them like brothers. He is a fantastic kid and has taught us a lot about life, that is for sure.
“I feel like a third-grade kid sometimes, soaking in what he says. It has been pretty eye-opening.”
“He has taught culture to our school,” Nuss said. “We don’t get intercity life here in Tripoli. We are as white/Midwest as you can get.
“His stories of back home ... those did open our students’ eyes that all places are not the same.”
Where Paino grew up in Chicago, going outside and down to the park to be with friends could be a dangerous adventure.
“Sometimes you’d have to go through three different neighborhoods, three different territories,” Paino said. “The people (gangs) felt they owned this section or that territory and if they did not know you, that was trouble.
“It was dangerous to go anywhere. I have had a lot of friends get shot. I have had a lot of friends get killed. I saw it so often I did get numb to it.”
Paino’s mom, Cholonda McIntyre, would force Marquise and his brother into their house before it got dark because of how dangerous it was outside.
Because of life circumstances, Paino doesn’t have as much contact with his mom, according to Urbanek, but Urbanek credits her for having the foresight she needed to get her son out of south Chicago.
“She knew his life was not going to be what it could be if he stayed where he was,” Urbanek said. “Life circumstances made that difficult, and she could not provide for him what he needed in Chicago.
“It is difficult. It is kind of how he ended up here.”
Taking a bullet
In 2015, there were 468 murders and 2,900 shootings in the city of Chicago. Paino was one of the 2,900.
That number rose to 762 and 4,331 in 2016, and as of Nov. 8, 593 people had been murdered in Chicago this year.
The night was early in the summer, and Paino, heading into his sophomore year of high school, had gotten home from football practice and was playing video games with his brother inside his home.
The incident started when a former boyfriend of one of Paino’s sisters started trouble.
“He and his friends had been calling us names all night,” Paino said. “My mom and sisters were outside, and one of my younger sisters came running into the house and said mom needs you, somebody is beating up your sister.
“My brother and I ran out, and mom pointed to a corner where the boy had run. When we got to the corner nobody was there, but a car was parked across the street and someone inside it started shooting.”
The bullet grazed Paino’s chest. His brother ushered him to the hospital. He had to wait nearly two hours to be treated.
“The hospital was all jammed up,” Paino said. “A lot of people got shot that night, shot a lot worse than I. A doctor looked at me, felt my chest to make sure the bullet wasn’t still in me and then just patched me up and sent me home.”
Getting to Iowa
Paino’s mom moved to the west side of Chicago sometime in 2016 away from the Bowen School District.
Because he was a good athlete, the wrestling coach found Paino a place to stay in the district with another wrestling parent so he could continue to wrestle at Bowen.
The problem with that arrangement, at times, is the son of that parent had issues with gangs throughout the neighborhood.
“If I hung with her son, he had trouble with a gang, and other gangs would think I was affiliated with his gang, so they’d chase us to school and home from school,” Paino said. “It was bad. Going to school was trouble, coming home from school was trouble.”
That was the last straw for his family, and his brother brought him to Iowa over spring break last March. Paino returned home for a brief time before coming back to Iowa at the start of the summer.
Wrestling in Iowa
Paino says he is looking forward to wrestling for Tripoli’s new wrestling team. The Panthers had been in a sharing agreement with Denver up until this season.
In Chicago, Paino said he had many friends who came to Iowa and wrestled, so he is familiar with how big wrestling is in the state.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” he said.
While he is a potential threat to make the state tournament and place, Paino hopes to play football in college.
“That is a passion for me,” Paino said. “Those wrestlers in college, they’ve got to starve themselves to make weight. I don’t know about that.”
Now when you see Paino walk down the hallways of the Tripoli Middle School/High School, numerous kids walk up to him for a high five or a quick conversation. He greets each and every one with a smile.
It is one of the great parts of his story of being accepted in Tripoli.
Both Nuss and Urbanek, who say Paino gets good grades, laugh about one of Paino’s first experiences with one of his future Panther football teammates.
“I pull into the parking lot for the first day of football practice in the summer,” Paino recalls. “I see one of the football players, so I drove next to him and roll down my window and asked him, ‘Is this where we go to report for football?’
“He looked at me for a long time and finally said, ‘I go to Tripoli.’
“I was like, I guess I will wait for somebody else,” laughed Paino.