Mr. Kurt Russell, More Than Just a History Teacher


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Kurt Russell smiles in front of Oberlin High School’s Phoenix backdrop.

As a sports writer, it is not surprising that I have a love for sports and stories. Much of this love was cultivated at Oberlin High School in 2022 National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell’s classroom. All throughout the past week, his work as a history teacher has been deservedly praised. I took Russell’s classes in all but one semester during my four years at OHS, and learned so much along the way. It was also Russell’s support of sports that helped me grow as a student and into the person I am today. 

Russell is certainly known as a big part of the local sports community as the longtime coach of OHS boys’ basketball team. His teams are often known for being some of the few good athletic teams at the school, and he won Lorain County 8 Coach of the Year two of the last three years. When I’ve talked to him about his role as a coach in the past, including an article I wrote for the Review in March, he has always emphasized how important basketball can be as an opportunity to teach students things they cannot learn in the classroom. 

There is no doubt he makes a huge impact on the boys he coaches. I didn’t play basketball, so it was the other ways in which Russell emphasized sports that stuck with me. This included discussing professional and collegiate sports in class, but he also made an effort to attend my soccer games and rehash them with me the next day. 

Although I have a lot of good things to say about Russell, I need to point out that he has the most questionable combinations of favorite sports teams I have ever heard of. He cheers for the University of Alabama’s football team, the Dallas Cowboys, the Oklahoma City Thunder (at least when Russell Westbrook played for them), and for some reason, the Baltimore Orioles. My friends and I all supported the local Ohio teams and we had to constantly defend them from Russell’s trash talk. We responded by hounding him about any losses the Cowboys and Alabama suffered. He did not hear the end of it when Alabama lost by 28 points to Clemson University in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship. 

Interactions like this in a classroom weren’t distractions. I felt that the breaking of social barriers between student and teacher in his classroom lessened my own participation anxiety, which led to positive academic outcomes. After hearing him give credit to the Cleveland Browns for a rare win in the moments before class began, it really did give me a better attitude about learning about the Treaty of Versailles. The power of sports is that it creates something that people of all ages and backgrounds can talk about and it knocks down any disconnects.

It wasn’t just making small talk about professional and collegiate sports that made an impact on me. I was also impressed with Russell’s effort to support Oberlin High School’s sports teams from a financial standpoint, often volunteering at the concession stand at football games. For most of us, seeing Russell serving pretzels and nachos on Friday nights was the only time we saw him wearing something other than a suit and tie. It set a good example for me to see someone put in the time after a long school week to give back to one of the school’s sports programs.

In addition to volunteering, Russell took it upon himself to be a spectator of his students’ sports games. He would also stay up to date on what happened in everyone’s games during class the next day and talk to them about upcoming games. I actually think he would make a damn good sports journalist. 

One day, when I was a freshman, and it was a few hours before I was about to play in my first playoff game, he could tell I was zoning out during a class. Instead of embarrassing me or asking for my attention in front of the class, he just talked to me afterward. He wasn’t mad at all and just wanted to make sure my lack of focus was about the big game instead of a bigger issue. 

Seeing teachers have that attitude about sports affirmed to me that sports are something worth caring about. It’s something I think about now writing for the sports section of the Review but also when I think about what I want to do with the rest of my life as I pursue journalism.