John Panelli graduated from Morristown High in the commercial program expecting to go to work immediately. College had never been seriously considered given the family's economic status. But when several dozen athletic scholarships appeared, he would have to take additional core course requirements to gain entrance. Bill Coffee, a friend of the family, had a relative who was football coach at the Cheshire Academy in Connecticut . One year tuition at Cheshire was an astonishing $2395 in 1943. A scholarship offer was extended that included provisions for John to work his way through Cheshire by bussing and waiting tables in the cafeteria, tutoring, and proctoring.
While at Cheshire , John was very busy. He lettered in football (captain), baseball (co-captain with a .521 batting average) and basketball, was president of the Inter-Club Council, a tenor in the Glee Club and was on the Graduation Dance Committee. On a typical day he was up at 5:30am for breakfast detail, sweeping the cafeteria floor at the 10am study break, playing sports after classes at 3pm, and getting the junior students in bed after dinner study detail. His own studies often did not begin until after 10 pm. John successfully completed his college entrance course requirements and was nominated “Mr. Cheshire”, “Most Popular” and “Best Athlete” by his fellow students. Upon graduation, the institution awarded John the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award and the Cadet Sheridan Award for Athlete, Scholar and Gentleman. In addition, he was named All-Prep in 1944. The rigors of Cheshire and the study habits he acquired helped prepare John for college. In 1995 he was honored at his 50 th reunion by being elected into the Cheshire Academy hall of fame.