Dan Gressett: Coaching RHS students through the game of life

(This is the second part of a two-part story on RHS principal Dan Gressett. Part 1 ran Tuesday.)

By T. Scott Boatright

Gressett was more than ready to retire as nothing more than a baseball coach and science teacher before life tossed him a change-up pitch.

“Ricky Durrett was the principal at Ruston and knocked on the classroom door on a Friday, I remember, and he said he needed to talk to me when I had a minute. That’s usually not a good thing. But I talked to him and he told me he was going to have an assistant principal position open and wanted to know if I might be interested.”

Gressett’s first instinct was to lay off the change-up. But then he decided to swing away.

“At first I thought I didn’t want it, so I asked him for some time. He said he needed to know on (the next) Monday. At that time he told me that I’d have to get out of coaching and all that. I went back and forth over it all that weekend and ended up deciding that I wanted to try it, and started that new position in January.

“Mr. Durrett told me I could finish out that baseball season, then that would be it. But it didn’t turn out that way and I ended up staying on for a few more years with the baseball team.”

Durrett, who also moved through the coaching ranks (basketball) to school administration, said getting to know Gressett made him feel Gressett could succeed in the same kind of journey he had made himself.

“Dan is a guy who relates well to students and has good relationships with them and relates well with their parents,” Durrett said. “I just noticed a knack he has of handling situations in a positive way. Even the kids who don’t often do well in class seemed to thrive under Dan.

“Many people in the community had gotten to know and believe in him and I just felt like he would be a good assistant principal. He did a good job on following through with things and finishing projects.”

Then, two-and-a-half years later, life fired a curveball to Gressett.

“Mr. Durrett called me in that time and told me he was moving to the school board office as secondary school supervisor and that he was recommending me to be interim principal,” Gressett said. “He told me that (then-Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead), would be calling. So I met with Mr. Milstead and turned it down. I wasn’t interested. I was assistant principal and still getting to coach and really enjoyed it. I was just very comfortable where I was.

“But Mr. Milstead called me in a couple of more times and we kept talking. It was just going to be an interim deal for one year, so I finally said I’d do it. That was four years ago. It worked out well. I consider myself an average principal with above-average students and above-average teachers and administrators surrounding me.”

Gressett admits his knowledge of facing pressure on the mound as a baseball pitcher and then serving as a longtime coach has helped him through a tumultuous period as RHS’s principal who has had to face social unrest, a pandemic, tornadoes and even a hurricane.

“I absolutely think that playing sports definitely prepares you for some things,” Gressett said. “You learn to let a lot of things just kind of roll off your back and not bother you. But it’s coaching that I think helped prepare me much more. You have to deal with a lot of different people as both a coach and a principal. Kids are easy to deal with. But as a principal you have to deal with parents, with adults in your building, with adults at the school board office and all of that.

“It’s been an incredibly wild ride since I became principal. But it’s been a fun one. And I do believe things are getting better and better with the COVID situation and that we’ll soon be past all of it for the most part. When I first came to Tech did I believe I’d be a teacher, let alone an administrator? No. But now I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I love Ruston and I love my job. Becoming assistant principal and then principal at Ruston has been a home run for me.”

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