Joey Curtis, a 2009 U of O graduate, is making the most of his first opportunity as a high school boys head basketball coach.
Joey Curtis, a 2009 Ozarks graduate, is in his first season as the boys head basketball coach at Waldron (Ark.) High School. He has the Bulldogs off to a 13-4 start this season. (Photo courtesy of Norm Betz, UR Hometown Sports).
Curtis has led the Waldron (Ark.) Bulldogs to an impressive 13-4 start this season after serving as an assistant coach and head junior high coach at the school the past two years. Curtis was promoted by the Waldron School Board to take over the program last summer after Brad Johnson, also an alumnus of Ozarks, left to become the head coach at his alma mater, Ozark (Ark.) High School.
"I’ve got an outstanding group of young men. Our success comes from all the hard work we put in this summer and pre-season," said Curtis. "These guys have worked very hard to get us where we are. It’s so rewarding to see all that work we’ve put in pay off, but we still haven’t accomplished all our goals we have set this year."
The first two months of Curtis’ head coaching career has seen a little bit of everything.
"My seniors have really stepped up because at the start of this year we were considered very inexperienced," he said. "I don’t think people can say that now because we’ve been through close games, blowouts, and even a triple-overtime marathon. Now that we’ve been through some tough challenges together, you can see us improving and getting better. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for."
Curtis, who earned a degree in physical education and health at Ozarks, served as a student assistant coach for the Lady Eagles while he was a college student. He said he gained invaluable experience at Ozarks, where he helped recruit many of the current players on the women’s team.
"I’ll always cherish my time at Ozarks," he said. "I love the people that I got to work with at Ozarks more than anything. The relationships that I made with my players while at Ozarks will always be very special to me. I still talk to the girls all the time. They’ll text and call to let me know how the games went and I do the same. Several of them have come to some of my games and cheered for my boys. To see players from my previous team come to support my current team reassures the family vibe that I try to instill in all my teams. I believe that building those relationships is a key to being a great coach and I was given a great opportunity to do that at Ozarks."
Three years ago, as a first-year head coach for the junior high team, Curtis led the Junior Bulldogs to the district finals for the first time in 20 years. Many of those players on that team lobbied for Curtis to get the high school head coaching job.
"I believe the players help me get this opportunity, they voiced their opinions, and I’m thankful for them being loyal to me," he said.
With Johnson as the head coach and Curtis as an assistant, the Bulldogs advanced to the state tournament last year, something he hopes becomes a regular occurrence.
"I’m looking forward to taking the Bulldogs back to the state tourney," said Curtis. "We’re not just looking to make it to the regionals; we want to go to the state tournament every year."
Curtis, who said he would like to return to coaching in the college ranks someday, has a more current goal: winning a state championship.
"I talk to my guys every day about setting your goals high," he said. "I try to teach them that there’s nothing wrong with setting high expectations."
He hopes to accomplish that goal by utilizing a fast-paced style of play.
"I like to watch a fast-paced style, so therefore that’s how I like to coach," he said, "However, in high school I don’t have the luxury of recruiting like I did at Ozarks. I’ve been fortunate this year to have a group that can play the way I want to play and they’re excelling at it."
Curtis, who also serves as the junior high boys head coach and teaches health for grades 9-12 at Waldron High School, credited his education and health classes at Ozarks for preparing him in the classroom.
"My professors were amazing at Ozarks," he said. "I really appreciate all their time that they put into Ozarks to make it the place that it is. (Former professor) Dr. Bruce Elmore was great. I learned a lot from him during my time at Ozarks. Everything that I was put through at Ozarks has prepared me for my job today."