Dan Gressett: Coaching RHS students through game of life

(This is the first part of a two-part story on RHS principal Dan Gressett. Part 2 will run Wednesday.)

By T. Scott Boatright

As a former baseball player for Louisiana Tech University, Dan Gressett knew how to throw many different kinds of pitches.

After student teaching at Ruston Junior High School and serving as a volunteer assistant at Ruston High, Gressett ended up becoming a longtime assistant coach for the Bearcats.

He expected to continue his career mentoring RHS pitchers and teaching science well into the future.

But sometimes life is like standing in front plate on a baseball diamond — sometimes it throws you a change-up. Later it might sometimes throw you a curve.

Stay at the plate long enough and a batter might face both, and that’s kind of the story of how Gressett, who grew up in Lake, Mississippi, unexpectedly ended up becoming the current principal at RHS.

“Lake is a really small town in central Mississippi,” he said. “There is no lake there. I get asked that a lot. It’s a rural area known for poultry production. The town was named by a man named Lake.”

At Lake (1993-96), Gressett’s athletic awards included twice being named All-County, twice named All-District, and a Mississippi High School Athletic Association All-Star. 

He recorded 82 strikeouts in 49.3 innings his senior season at Lake before he moved on to play for East Central (Mississippi) Community College.

There he helped lead the Warriors to the school’s first state baseball championship in school history in 1998. In the same season, Gressett received All-State and All-Region honors and was named to the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges All-Star team. Gressett recorded 15 career wins, the second-most in school history at the time.

After two seasons of junior college play, it became time for Gressett to decide where to continue his college education.

“I had committed to Southern Miss and was going there, but then I met (former Tech assistant coach) Brian Rountree, who recruited central Mississippi quite a bit,” Gressett said. “He and I ended up hitting it off. Randy Davis was head coach but they made a coaching change that summer before I got to take and (Jeff) ‘Whitey’ Richardson was named head coach. So his first year was my first year. ‘Tree’ got me to come over on a visit and I just fell in love with the place, and with ‘Tree’ and ‘Whitey.’ I’m still close with Tree.

“I didn’t know anyone in the state of Louisiana when I moved here. There was one player on the baseball team that I had known, but he ended up transferring before I ever made it over here, so I was a little bit out of element. That was August of 1998.”

After living in central Mississippi his entire life up to that point, life away from home did give him some doubts early on.”

“I’ll admit, I was a little homesick at first,” Gressett said. “Away from everything and everyone I was used to was hard, but I just kept telling myself I had to stick it out — just make it to Christmas. At the end of the first quarter (of the Tech academic year), I moved in with another baseball after living alone at first, and everything was great after that. But those first few months were tough.”

At Louisiana Tech from 1999-2000, Gressett was a two-year starter in conference games and a two-year letter winner. In 33 appearances on the mound, Gressett recorded 60 strikeouts for the Bulldogs and was also chosen to serve on the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

He graduated with a degree in secondary education with a certification in biology and general science in the fall of 2001. Gressett didn’t immediately find a job, so he started subbing at RJHS and volunteer coaching at RHS.

After finishing out that academic year at RJHS, Ruston baseball coach Tim O’Neal needed a pitching coach and the school was also looking for a science teacher.

“It just so happened those openings popped up, and ‘Tree’ put in a good word and they hired me,” Gressett said. “That was 20 years ago. I don’t know what it’s like at other places — Ruston High is the only place I’ve worked. But that’s a good thing. It’s the only place I know.

“And I never taught biology. I didn’t want to teach biology and they didn’t want me to teach biology. I actually taught physical science and environmental science.”

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