By Ricky Sayer
Bryn Mawr PA—After a decade of coaching the Harriton Boys Basketball team, Coach Jesse Rappaport has decided to step down from his position of the team’s head coach so he can take an Assistant Coaching position at Penn State Brandywine. Coach Rappaport led the Rams to the playoffs 8 of his 10 years coaching.
For Rappaport, coaching on the collegiate level has been a lifelong dream, so when he received a call last Thursday from Ben Kay, the new coach at Penn State Brandywine, it was an opportunity he could not pass up. “The new head coach there had reached out to me and just made a very convincing argument, and I know him I respect him, I like the staff, and it just feels like a nice opportunity,” said Coach Rapp.
Rappaport, who will stay on as a history teacher at Harriton High School, said that Kay called him up Thursday, mere hours after he himself accepted the Brandywine job. Kay told Rapp he would be his “first hire, his assistant to help rebuild [the] program.”
A couple of college coaches have contacted Rappaport over the years but as he said, he “put it on the back burner.” Since then the coach has been engaged and has had many things change in his life “Before I get out of coaching, this has been a dream to try college, and I dint know if I would ever be there.”
Rappaport said that he would only leave Harriton “for the right situation. You don’t know what’ll happen. Here was an opportunity where [the university] is only 30 minutes away, I could still do it [and teach.]
Kay told Rappaport that he would schedule practices at a time that would allow him to still teach at Harriton, “He’s going to do it at a time that fits me, so I can still teach, but not too late so I would get home at [a very late hour].”
Even with all of the positives, the decision was still a challenging one for Rappaport, as he would have to leave the team he built for 10 years.
“It was a very tough decision, probably the toughest decision of my life, but it was just something that I just always wanted to do [which] is coach college. It was an opportunity also. It’s tough to walk away, it’s very tough” Rappaport said.
Harriton Athletic Director Thomas Ferguson, who helped hire coach Rappaport in 2007, said that, “We’re sorry to see coach Rappaport go. He has done a great job here at Harriton, but I understand, trying to move to the college level is something he is looking to do. Were gonna miss him. We’d like to thank him for all of what he has done here at Harriton for 10 years, he’s run a great program and we’ve done really well. We’re gonna miss him and we wish him the best of luck.”
A key factor in Coach Rappaports decision to take the job at PSU Brandywine was his prior relationship with their new coach Ben Kay. Kay graduated from Harriton in 2007 right as Rappaport was being hired. Since then, Rapp says that “our paths have crossed through team camps and he had seen our team play.” Rappaport and Kay even live right around the corner from one another. “We play pickup basketball against each other sometimes,” said Rappaport.
Kay, who spent the last two years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for West Chester University, said that “I’ve known Coach Rappaport for ten years from playing with him, watching him coach Harriton, and recruiting his players. We are excited to have him on staff with his 20 years of coaching experience and his college playing experience at Hobart. He is going to bring great energy and knowledge of the game to the program and his high character is exactly what we are looking for.”
Harriton’s Mr. Ferguson, who was AD at the time that Ben Kay played at Harriton had this to say about Kay, “He’s a great kid. He’s put hard work and time in, I think that’s what attracted coach Rappaport to help [him]. That’s the kind of guy he is. He wants to help him grow a program. He didn’t just want to leave to go to a college, he is going to work with someone he really likes and respects and wants to help.
Coach Rappaport leaves behind a bright legacy at Harriton, where he turned around a team that had won 3 games in the season before he arrived into a team that went to the playoffs for 7 consecutive seasons. He saw his Rams go from being a AAA team in 2008 to being a AAAAA in 2017. Even with the changes, his teams made the AAA district Quarterfinals 3 times, a AAA district final 4 appearance, A final four central league appearance, and four consecutive Southern Lehigh Tip off Tournament championships.
Rappaport said that “I worked extremely hard my whole life to get to this point. What I wanted to do and what I think from coming here and really seeing a program that was down and kicked in the mud, was coming off some extremely tough seasons, just I am very proud of what we were able to build. I really mean weight, I really thank the players, the players made it happen. I’m very blessed that to continue to still have close relationships with them. I was talking to many of them the past couple of days and it was very tough telling them, but I wouldn’t be in the position if it weren’t for them. Obviously there are some great memories of district final 4s and central league final 4s and upsets in the playoffs and things like that, but the main thing was the relationships, that was really the best part.”
Will Esposto was the star player on Coach Rappaports team in 2016-2017. He first learned that his coach would be leaving Harriton on Monday after Rappaport informed all the returning varsity players. Will congratulated his coach and told him “You gotta do what’s best for you, lotta big things going on in his life.” Will also said that Rappaport was very reluctant to leave the players he had coached for years.
For Will, Rappaport was more than just a coach, “He was great,” Will said, “he was really big for me around the time my mom passed. He was really really supportive with the whole team there. He taught me more than just Basketball, he talked about how you create your habits that last you for the rest of your life. He was definitely good at going beyond the court and [teaching] actual life lessons… He’s gonna do big things, he’s gonna do big things for sure. I’m happy for him.”
Drew Levin, a Junior at Harriton and a player on the basketball team said that next year, without Rappaport “I think that it’s gonna be different, it’s a little disappointing cause for a lot of us we grew up with Rapp, you know we’ve known him since middle school. Its going to be interesting to see what happens but I’m happy for Rapp.”
Another student, Will Thomas, who played under Rapp for two years and one year as manger, said that “Going to Penn state Brandywine is a great opportunity for him to coach college basketball and possibly at a higher level. Were gonna miss him at Harriton, he was here 10 years strong. A great coach and a great guy overall.”
Sophie Grady, star of the girls basketball team who scored 1000 points this year expressed how some students felt about Coach Rapp leaving the team, “I think it’s really sad for the Harriton program. We love Rapp, it’s nice having a teacher as a coach, I’ll definitely miss him.”
Rappaport is a graduate of Hobart college, where he won multiple awards including for a buzzer beater shot that beat the number 3 team in the country.
Rappaport played on the Israeli team Hapoel Nahariah from 1996 to 1998
Mr. Ferguson said that he has begun the process of finding a new Harriton head coach. Jesse Rappaport said he is assisting with the search.
When asked about the state of the team as he leaves it “I think the program is in great shape, the team is going to do very well next year, there is great talent, we really turned a corner this year, we were able to get back to where we were a few years ago. Their number one fan will always be me.
As for his years coaching Harriton’s team, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it has been an amazing ten years, it was a dream come true.”
Ricky “Reports” Sayer is a senior at Harriton High School who will be attending Syracuse University starting in the fall of 2017. RickyReports.TV is in no way affiliated with Harriton High School.