They look alike.
They sound alike.
And they both love winning championships.
So Saturday night was disappointing to Johnny Curtis, who could have gained a little bit of ground on his father.
Instead, Curtis suffered a heartbreaking 6-4 loss to rival Evangel Christian in the 3A championship game, leaving Johnny still 29 state titles behind the legendary J.T. Curtis.
J.T., who’s still going strong as the school’s football coach, has won 26 state titles in football.
He won another five in baseball.
Not that Johnny is counting.
“I don’t want to necessarily catch him,’ he said. “I just want to continue be a part of coaching and grow. Whether you are coaching football or whether you are coaching baseball, coaching is coaching. It’s about loving these kids and teaching them life lessons.”
That wasn’t always the case though.
“Just like most teenagers, I had a rebellious side, so I always wanted to go somewhere and coach against my dad,” Johnny recalls.
But instead, he ended up coaching at the same school with his dad, who was there cheering the team on as it had settled for a runners-up trophy at McMurry Park.
J.T.’s other son Jeff is an assistant on the baseball team.
“It’s rewarding to see them,” said the elder Curtis. “They have taken where we were and built and continued to enhance the program to a level of excellence. They are both highly competitive kids. Johnny has been a fierce competitor his whole life, and that’s made him a unique coach.”
Johnny and Jeff were two-sport stars at Curtis, playing baseball and football for their dads.
They didn’t have to.
Their dad had two rules when it came to athletics.
“One, I never insisted that they play sports,” J.T. said. “That was only if they wanted to. And two, when we left the gates of the practice field, football and baseball was over. It’s not easy to do but I think it is imperative to do that if you want to have a relationship with your kids as a father.”
Both played and both succeeded.
“They were overachievers as players in high school,” J.T. said. “And as far as raw talent, probably neither one of them should have been playing Division I football, but they both did.”
Jeff played at Tulane and was backup quarterback to Shawn King on the Green Wave’s undefeated team. Older brother Johnny played at Mississippi State under Jackie Sherrill.
It was at Mississippi State where he also learned the finer points of baseball.
He would go and watch legendary former MSU coach Ron Polk’s teams.
“I knew that I wanted to coach baseball,” said Johnny. “So I got right into Ron Polk’s hip pocket and I sat there many days just watching practice from the outfield. I would watch what they did and how they progressed. At the end of the day, I used a lot of those things in what we do. Ron Polk doesn’t even know me very well, but he was a great mentor.”
But Johnny’s biggest mentor is his dad.
“He’s taught me everything,” said Johnny. “The main things are just work ethic and trying to treat people right and you get the winning lessons along the way.”
Johnny was trying to add yet another chapter to what has been a storybook school year for the school that was founded by his grandfather (the late John T. Curtis Sr.) in 1962.
The school entered Saturday having won five state titles already this school year and was looking to make it three in three consecutive weeks.
The softball team won a state title two weeks ago just a few blocks away in Sulphur. The track team won one last week in Baton Rouge. The school also won titles in indoor track, cross-country and of course football this school year.
But on this night, it wasn’t to be.
J.T. stood close by as his son talked to the team.
He has been on that side before too.
As a former baseball coach, J.T. lost in the title game six times.
“I think baseball is the hardest one to win one in,” J.T. said.
But his son knows there is a lesson in the loss.
“Don’t let this loss go in vain,” he said. “Learn from it. Get yourself back here, and hopefully 12 months from now, find a way to win it.”