Revere High sports fans will remember her well as Kim Kelley, the dynamic point guard who led a city to basketball heights it hadn’t seen before.
The 5-foot-4-inch three-sport athlete could shoot, dribble, and defend with the best of them, but what she was most recognized for was her ability to distribute the basketball – find a teammate with the best opportunity to score and pass her the ball.
Ed Leyden was the head coach in the 1980s when Kim (Kelley) Penney helped the Revere program claim three consecutive Greater Boston League championships while winning 44 out of 45 league games. Patrice Misiano and Diana Odoardi were the other headliners during that golden era of RHS girls basketball. Other key players included Melissa Moore, Joanna Leone, Robyn Vincent, and Jennifer Wells.
“Kim was outstanding,” recalled Leyden, who now coaches women’s basketball at Suffolk University. “She was a combination of tough, smart, and competitive with a year-round work ethic. She was like a second coach out on the floor. She had a high basketball IQ and was ultra-competitive in a game.”
Penney continued her basketball career at prestigious Tufts University where she excelled and became a captain. For the past 14 years Penney has been the head girls basketball coach at Reading High School and on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester she led the school to its first-ever state basketball championship.
Reading’s 48-27 victory over Tyngsboro was the culmination of a perfect 25-0 season, but also an affirmation of Penney’s exceptional leadership in building a program replete with dedicated players that mirror her character, drive, and sportsmanship.
All-Scholastic guard Olivia Healy said she was honored to play basketball for a team coached by Penney.
“Coach Penney is the best coach I’ll ever have,” said Healy after Saturday’s state championship game. “I have so much respect for her. She pushes us. She works us hard and I couldn’t be more thankful to have her put me on her team and have that much trust in every single player. She’s really developed me to be the best player and person I can be.”
Reading senior Michelle DalPozzo is also a believer in Penney’s coaching method. “This is an amazing way to end my high school career with her. She has been the best coach. Everything with her is fundamentals. It’s the little things. We’re not just going to go out every day and work on shooting. That’s just one part of the game. She works on every part of the game. And the most important thing she teaches us is to never give up.”
The 42-year-old Penney, who has guided Reading to 12 consecutive postseason berths and four consecutive Middlesex League championships, said she had high hopes entering this season but even great teams need some luck along the way.
“It takes a lot, not just talent or anything; you need good fortune – to keep your players healthy and injury free and even some of the calls and bounces have to go your way,” said Penney. “For us to make this run to a state title, it’s been a wonderful experience and a lot of good things happened for us. We never talked about having a perfect season. We were never really nervous about that, we just focused on winning the next game.”
The dream was almost derailed in the state semifinal at the TD Garden when Reading played undefeated Scituate in a classic, ultimately prevailing 71-64 in overtime.
Through her successful basketball program, Penney has sent several players on to compete in college. She also founded One-on-One College Consulting, a Wakefield-based company that helps and advises student-athletes in the college admissions process.
Penney’s journey to the top began in Revere where she displayed her incredible athletic talent as early as elementary school.
“We played on a recreational team called the Kelley Girls that was coached my father [Lance Kelley], Bob Misiano, Ray Cronin, and Mr. Terrazano,” recalled Penney. “We started in the fourth grade and played through the eighth grade. We had so much fun.”
By the time she became a freshman at Revere High, optimism was abounding city wide about the future of the girls basketball program and the much-anticipated pairing of Penney in a starting backcourt with Odoardi. Misiano, a terrific 6-foot center who later starred at Bentley, would arrive at RHS a year later.
Though Penney had been a superb scorer through elementary and junior high school, she settled into a role as the floor general for the Lady Patriots.
“One of the biggest things that I tell my players and that I’m so proud of is the fact that I had two 1,000-point scorers on either side of me in both high school [Odoardi and Misiano] and college. I was feeding them the ball – that’s what my job was. That was my biggest thrill – make a good pass and have someone score and know that you’re a part of it.”
Penney thoroughly enjoyed her years of RHS basketball under the guidance of Leyden.
“He [Leyden] suggested Tufts to me,” recalled Penney. “I went to visit the school and I loved it. He’s been a great influence in my life over the years. To this day, I still talk to him regularly and we still run the camp [Reading Girls Basketball Camp] together every summer. He’s a really great guy.”
Penney had a large delegation of friends and family at the state championship game including Patrice Misiano and Michelle Villiotte, her parents Lance and Diane Kelley, her grandmother Jean Martin, her sister Heather [an eighth grade science teacher in Revere], her husband Matt Penney and two sons, Bryan, 11, and Jack, 9,
While Penney has built one of the winningest girls basketball programs in Massachusetts at Reading, there are those in Reading who remember how great an athlete and competitor she was while wearing the RHS and Tufts uniforms.
Philip Vaccaro, the current Reading High athletic director, used to referee Penney’s basketball games in high school and college.
“I knew her as a little, feisty athlete, a 100-pound tiger,” said Vaccaro. “She knows how to take that energy and make it always positive.”
Vaccaro said Penney is a terrific role model for her players.
“Coach Penney has meant so much to our program,” said Vaccaro. “She’s a great role model. She’s an intense coach but displays great sportsmanship. I call her the John Wooden of high school girls basketball. She does things right. She wins because she takes care of details. We’re just so happy to have her as a coach in our athletic program.”
From Revere to Reading, Kim Kelley Penney has been a champion in every sense of the word.