The first time I saw John Curtis, I didn’t know his name, but I thought, at the time, he bore a resemblance to one-time PGA Tour member Tom Weiskopf. Curtis was playing in his regular foursome at Canasawacta Country Club with Dave Clarke, Russ Lowe, and Joe Brillinger. Curtis didn’t hit it like Weiskopf, but he was a pretty good stick.
I came to know Curtis in my early years working at the newspaper as he succeeded Tony Abbott as varsity football coach. Abbott had a Hall of Fame career lifting Oxford to the top of the Susquenango Association several times. Curtis, an assistant under Abbott, served as the offensive coordinator for Abbott, and Curtis put his own stamp on the program when he took the reins in 1996.
“John was a little different than me,” Abbott said in a phone interview Monday. “I was a big option guy. Being a former high school quarterback, John liked to throw it more, and he did. That was probably our only difference.”
There was no difference with the results on the field, either. Abbott won 147 games during his 27 seasons, and Curtis tacked on 72 more victories during his tenure to give Oxford 219 football wins from 1970 to 2006. Looking over our records, that is the most wins for a Chenango County football team during that span.
Said Mike Chrystie, who played on three Section IV championship teams under Curtis, and is now head coach at Norwich: “John was definitely a model of consistency that I am striving for as a football coach, and I hope, one day, our program can reach the consistency he had at Oxford.”
When you’re in this business and building relationships within the many small communities, there aren’t many degrees of separation. My “Oracle of Bacon” number with John Curtis was one, and I didn’t even know it the first year I covered his teams.
As I got to know John a little better, I learned more about his family. His wife, Jean, was an elementary school teacher. At some point, I am sure I asked John if his wife ever taught school at St. Paul’s (now named Holy Family). John said she did at the start of her teaching career.
I remembered that my second grade teacher at St. Paul’s was Mrs. (Jean) Curtis, and my mom confirmed the football coach’s wife was an integral part of my childhood education.
I was on friendly terms with John throughout the 11 years we worked together, but I’ve learned more about him in the two days since his passing than I ever did during our professional relationship.
Don Cooper coached along side Curtis for 31 years, and was Curtis’ right-hand man as the defensive coordinator on the 1997, 1999, and 2000 Section IV Class D championship teams.
Cooper worked with a lot of great coaches on the Oxford staff, coached against some of the finest field generals in Section IV, and knew of perhaps every other good coach in Central New York. He pinpointed one characteristic about Curtis that made him unique.
As every coach knows, from time to time you deal with undisciplined and disrespectful athletes, and its well known that many parents can be just as unruly in their treatment of a coach.
“What made John stand out in my mind, and I wrote this in the dedication of the scoreboard (to John), is that he was the most professional guy,” Cooper said. “I spent thousands of hours with him, and never once did he bad-mouth a kid or a parent.”
Cooper said that one time a parent blew cigar smoke in Curtis’ face in an effort to provoke the head coach. Curtis was a robust, athletic man in his prime, and surely could have handled himself in any altercation. However, Curtis diffused the situation by remaining calm and professional.
While Maine-Endwell and Chenango Forks have set the bar in Section IV with their multiple sectional football championships and ensuing state titles, Curtis set the bar high in Chenango County with seven sectional title game appearances and three Section IV titles in four years.
Curtis raised the bar around these parts, and no has come close to reaching it.
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