Coach Psaras a Newport icon
       Except for the fact that he lives in Middletown now,


       Jim Psaras is as Newport as can be.


       He grew up in the City by the Sea. He graduated from Rogers High School. He teaches elementary school physical education and health in Newport. He has coached basketball for 27 seasons in Newport, first at Thompson Middle School, second with the Rogers freshmen, third with the Rogers junior varsity and the last 24 with the Rogers varsity.


       In those 24 seasons, Psaras has won 400 games. He reached the milestone last Tuesday night at Central Falls, a 71-37 triumph, and won his 401st on Thursday at home over Cumberland, 74-47.


       Psaras knew that 400 would come this season. He had a veteran team that had lost to North Providence in the 2011 Division II final and to North Kingstown in the first round of the state tournament.


       But when it happened on Tuesday night, he was still overwhelmed.


       “Wow! I’ve been around a long time, I guess,” he said while recalling the postgame euphoria. “To have that many wins, you don’t realize it because one day becomes another day, one season becomes another season and one decade becomes another decade. When it happened, it was kind of surreal.”


       Psaras had told his family and a few close friends the milestone was imminent, but word spread quickly.


       “Tuesday night on the bus ride home I got texts from former players and friends and family. Wednesday I got texts, Facebook posts and calls nonstop. To me, it was just another game. I’ve been lucky to have had great players and great assistants,” he said.


       Psaras won state championships in 1990, 1991 and 1993. In recent years his teams have challenged but come up short in title races. The 2004 Vikings won 15 games in Division I-A. The 2005 and 2006 teams finished16-2 in the regular season in Division II. The 2007 Vikings were 14-2 and lost to Feinstein in the Division II championship game. Two 9-9 seasons and a rare losing season, 7-11, ensued before the 2011 Vikings bounced back with a 15-3 regular season finish in D-II East.


       His current team has the ability to make another title run. The Vikings are 10-1 in Division II, their only loss to Shea by two points, and 12-3 overall. They will visit 11-0, 13-1 West Warwick on Tuesday night.


       “I have a group of kids who have played together for a long time. I have the core pieces of the football team, the quarterback, the running back, the wideout. They’re been together growing up. They won the freshmen state championship, and they had tough losses as sophomores and juniors,” he said.


       The captains are Trevor Morgera, Divon Bailey and Reeyon Watts. They are also three of the top four scorers. Marc Washington, Cody Platt and Parrish Perry complete the rotation.


       “We’re balanced and capable of putting up big numbers. We’ve got a little size, speed, and athleticism, and we have kids who can shoot the ball. They’re great kids who have different challenges in their lives. We deal with it,” he added.


       The popular perception of Newport is that it’s a playground for the rich and famous and a warm-weather tourist magnet. That’s true, but stroll a few blocks from the manicured tennis courts of the New-port Casino and the mansions of Bellevue Avenue, or from the boutiques and restaurants of Thames Street, and you’ll find working-class neighborhoods and housing projects. You’ll find poverty and the same problems that beset urban areas.


       “I’ve taught at both ends of Newport,” Psaras said. “We teach life’s lessons every day. These are 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids who have to make choices. Sometimes they make mistakes, as we all do. If we can make a difference, we try to make a difference.”


       Psaras is an old-school coach who will bench his best players to make a point. He did it before the state tournament game against North Kingstown last season, when he disciplined two starters for violating a rule.


       Psaras is 48 and still loves coaching at Rogers.


       “Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you don’t realize how special it is. To walk around the gym and see the banners hanging there, the balcony, the old wood floor. … I don’t do it for the pay. I do it for the passion and the love of the game.”