J.T. Curtis to be Inducted into Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame park
J.T. Curtis has won over 500 games, more than any other coach in the history of Louisiana high school football. Make that 150 more than the next highest. And he's still going.
But he's not counting. In his mind, it's not about him. When the many accolades roll in, he is quick to pass full credit to his former players, coaches and friends.
"He always thinks about the other person first," said Pete Jenkins, a highly-respected college assistant coach. "It is never about himself."
Curtis, one of the top high school coaches in the nation, will be the second of four standout local athletes to be inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl's Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, August 5, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Each year's Hall of Fame class is selected by the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee, a group of current and former media members who annually recognize a variety of award-winners, including the Corbett Awards and the Eddie Robinson Award. The group also selects the Greater New Orleans Amateur Athlete of the Month each month.
A total of 23 individuals, including this year's Hall of Fame class (Curtis will be joined by Dean Courtade and two others to be announced later this week), and three teams will be honored at this year's banquet.
When Curtis won his 500th game in 2013, his post-game comments to the media were typical of himself, "I couldn't be more proud of the coaches and the players and the staff and all of the guys through the years. I really mean what I said earlier this week about them all playing a part in 500 and getting us to where we are."
Jenkins was an assistant coach at LSU on a scouting assignment at John Curtis Christian School during spring practice in 1980. "That short visit led to a lifetime friendship," says Jenkins. "We started talking football and never stopped. He shared so much. Meeting him truly changed my life."
That first encounter with Jenkins is characteristic of Curtis. Scores of college scouts pass through his office each year because of the school's phenomenal record of success. Curtis enjoys nothing more than sitting behind his desk and chatting with them; not just about football, but getting to know each other. They often become lifetime friends.
Those cordial conversations are sometimes briefly interrupted.
Sometimes it's a knock on the door by one of his teachers with a problem or a family with a prospective student. Curtis has served as headmaster of John Curtis Christian School since his father's passing in 2005. He oversees a student body of 850 boys and girls in PK2 through 12th grade plus a faculty and staff of 85, all on two campuses a mile apart.
Sometimes the door is cracked open by one of his coaches with a scheduling problem or someone from the business office checking about the buses to the next game. He is the school's athletics director, guiding a program that includes 12 high school teams plus 20 teams on the lower school, junior high and freshman levels, plus the band, cheerleaders, pep squads and dance teams. Counting all varsity sports, the school has won 70 State Championships.
Sometimes the phone rings and it's a call from a local government official about a neighborhood family in need. In addition to overseeing the school's many community service projects, Curtis is a member of Kenner North Kiwanis and has twice served as the club's president.
Sometimes it's a message from Ed Daniels, his good friend who has co-anchored Friday Night Football on WGNO-TV for nearly three decades. Sometimes it's a happy visit from one of his 10 grandchildren, who know the exact location of that bottom drawer in his desk with the hard candies.
Sometimes the interruption is one of his students with a personal issue. That brings everything else to a halt, and he gives it his immediate attention.
Yes, his job description would fill up a legal pad.
And right at the top, it would say Curtis is an ordained Baptist minister. He delivers a sermon to a congregation of 150-plus every Sunday in the school gym. Back in his office, when sitting at his desk, he keeps the Holy Bible within arm's length and often refers to it.
Curtis is frequently called upon for consolation in times of dire emergency. When those calls come, he grabs his bible, he is out the door in a flash, and he is instantly behind the wheel of that big white Suburban.
Like the day when Pat Jonson called. "My aunt and uncle, Henry and Mary Mentz, had just learned that Mary had lymphoma cancer," said Johnson. Curtis responded and came to pray for them. As always, he had the right words at the right time.
That wasn't forgotten. Later, when Pat's uncle passed, the services were in a Catholic Church. At the family's request, the priest invited Curtis to speak with him. "It was a day we will never forget," said Johnson.
Hank Tierney and Curtis had a great rivalry when Tierney was head coach at Archbishop Shaw in the 90's. Asked to comment about his associate, here is what Tierney said: "In my opinion, he is the most iconic figure ever in a long line of great and storied Louisiana high school football coaches.
"He has set a level of coaching excellence that will never be equaled in this state and his unparalleled success has brought national attention to John Curtis Christian School, and the entire state of football in Louisiana."
The records and plaudits keep mounting. He was twice named National Coach of the Year by USA Today. He has been inducted into the National Federation of High School Athletics Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana College Hall of Fame, and the Louisiana High School Hall of Fame.
Add to that the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. That body is selected by a panel of local sports media. Under new guidelines this year, he will be the first active coach to be inducted.
Curtis' teams have reached the playoffs every year since 1975, winning 26 state championships. His 2012 team was the consensus national champion. He has won 90 percent of his games. His career victory total has exceeded the likes of Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, George Halas and Vince Lombardi. In fact, Curtis has won more games than any active football coach on all levels, college, prep or pro.
Just don't ask him how many.
Story by Bill Curl of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.