Teacher, coach glad to help
For 45-year-old lifelong Newport resident Russ Morris, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing the look on students’ faces when they throw the perfect pitch or score an “A” on a big test.
And through nearly 20 years of teaching and coaching everything from the youngest basketball players to quarterbacks and senior softball sluggers, Morris has seen a lot of that success.
Morris was nominated for The Marietta Times’ Gems of the Valley series, which highlights local people who have made great strides for their communities under the radar, a nomination he said he is honored to receive.
“There’s a lot of people who do what I do, but I’m grateful to be able to do it in a place like Frontier,” he said.
Morris, a math teacher at Frontier High School, currently coaches varsity softball for the school, along with a long list of coaching experiences that have taken him from junior high basketball to high school football.
“Sports teaches kids the value of hard work and how to work well with others,” he said. “You have to work hard and overcome any obstacles you face, so I try to teach them a sport but also help them grow as a person and be successful to go out into their life.”
Morris moved into his current position as varsity softball coach last year with the extra perk of getting to coach his daughter Sammi, who will be a sophomore at Frontier next year.
But his dedication as a coach goes far beyond that, said Rich Evans, the longtime friend and former classmate of Morris who nominated him.
“We’ve both coached, and I know a lot of parents coach for themselves or want to be in the spotlight or do it so their kid can play,” Evans said. “He helps all the kids and takes all the extra time on his own time to help everyone out.”
Morris said his ultimate goal is to give back to the Frontier district what it has given to him.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, went to high school here, and I teach here,” he said. “There’s no place I’d rather be, and if I can help Frontier kids be successful, then I’ve done something with my life.”
Early into his career, Morris spent his time running the Newport Athletic Association, which provided several opportunities for younger children to get into sports on the elementary school level.
“I wanted everyone to have an opportunity to play ball,” Morris said. ” Education is the most important thing, but I think you can get a lot of education on the field or the basketball court that will help you later in life.”
New Matamoras native Anthony Mossburg, 27, said Morris played a major role in making his four years of high school the best they could possibly be as his football coach and mentor.
“He pushed me much further than I would have gone on my own, both in sports and in school,” he said. “He made me well-rounded and focused as a person and an athlete.”
Morris coached Mossburg as a varsity head coach from 2001 to 2004, but a decade later, a friendship still exists.
“I still consider him a good friend, and I always stop by his house, and I doubt many people have a relationship like that with a high school coach,” Mossburg said. “But he invested in our lives so much.”
Stephanie Cochran, 33, of Newport, had Morris as a coach in some of his earliest days with the school district during his first time as an FHS softball coach in 1996.
“You were his player, but he also treated you like his own kid,” she said. “He was tough but fair, and instead of just being there for his own kid or something, he was there to help us improve.”
Morris said whether it was softball, basketball or football, he is and always will be there for the same reason.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with some really great kids and I am so appreciative of them,” he said. “You don’t do what you do for recognition, but for the look kids get on their face when they see success, because you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Morris said though he was honored by the nomination, he gave a lot of credit to his wife, Sheryl, and his father, Rusty.
“Between schools and sports it takes up a lot of time, and you need someone supportive to be there, or you’re never going to be able to do what you love,” he said. “And a lot of the tools I use in coaching and a lot of the value I put into it, I learned from my dad.”