By SONYA ROBERTS-WOOODS
Daingerfield High School Head Basketball Coach Curtis Lewis believes in starting early scouting talent. This summer marked the 20th year Lewis and his staff have hosted a youth basketball camp attracting young athletes in the making.
“I just think it’s important to teach them the fundamentals when they are young,” Lewis said. “I enjoy working with the young kids and I think about all of the kids who came through the camp when they were little and then played for me once they got to high school. Having the camp is where a lot of them first got their start.”
Lewis got his start early on too. Growing up in Morris County, Lewis, whose parents are Monzell Lewis and the late Patsy Lewis, was surrounded by talented athletes in the family. Cousins Gary and Darryl Lewis both played in the NFL.
In high school, Curtis Lewis excelled across the board in sports but his passion has always been basketball. In fact, Lewis and classmates captured a state championship in basketball his junior year. The Daingerfield team came within one game from going back to state the following year.
“I have great memories of being able to play with my brother, Rodney, and several of my cousins while I was in high school,” Lewis said. “I learned so much from all of them. They really motivated me to work hard.”
Lewis continued working hard after high school attending Prairie View A&M University where he received his bachelor’s degree. With a chance to go almost anywhere to start his coaching career, Lewis chose to return home. The year was 1983 and the experience would forever change his life.
That season, the first-year assistant football coach witnessed history firsthand. The Daingerfield Tigers posted a 16-0 Cinderella season that year to capture the state title. Lewis can recall that experience just like it was yesterday. That first season turned out to be one of his best.
“That kind of success in one season only comes around once in a lifetime,” Lewis said. “It just doesn’t happen every day and I’m so grateful to have been a part of something like that. I learned a lot from that group of guys and coaches. I’ve always been a competitor, but this was different. Now I was experiencing it, for the first time, from a coach’s perspective.”
“I watched and learned from those guys on how to prepare to play every day,” he explained. “It didn’t take me long to see why they were so good at what they did. Those guys were self-motivated and they motivated each other. There wasn’t any ‘I’ when it came to how they played. It was always ‘we.’ They were all good athletes and more importantly they wanted to be coached. They wanted it bad as a team and they weren’t afraid to work hard to get it.”
In fact, that 1983 Blue Tigers team holds the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) national record for most shutouts in a single season and is considered one of the most dominant teams in Texas history. They were the first Texas high school team to win 16 games in one season.
Entering his 35th year this fall as an educator and coach, Lewis has also had several seasons of success on the hardwood. Last year, the Tigers made it to the regional semifinals and after losing nine of their 11 players came back this year to earn another district title and advance to the regional quarterfinals. The Tigers finished this year’s season with a 21-12 record. Lewis was selected as the Northeast Texas Basketball Coach of the Year by the Texarkana Gazette.
Taking the good with the bad, Lewis has also had some tough losses while coaching basketball. He recalls, in particular, one three-year period.
The Tigers lost to Commerce in the semi-finals during the 1996-97. The following year, in the regional tournament, the Tigers came up short against Dallas Madison losing 96-92 against the metroplex team that had dropped down to 3A that year. The next year, Daingerfield suffered another devastating loss to another Tigers team—Clarksville.
“Now that was a hard loss,” Lewis said. “With two seconds left, they ended up beating us by two points. Those seasons were some heartbreakers.”
Lewis admits it is unheard of to coach for the same district for over three decades.
“You have some coaches who move so much they don’t even know where to call home,” Lewis said. “I never wanted that–just to be able to say I coached there or I was there.”
With five state football rings and three rings for titles in track, Lewis has definitely left his mark on the Daingerfield sports program as both an athlete and a coach. Although he’s not looking to slow down anytime soon, he does admit the coaching profession has changed over the years.
“The priorities for the young people have also changed,” Lewis said. “They sometimes have a hard time adjusting to me because I expect certain things. I try to always be consistent and allow them to make the necessary changes. I usually don’t have to get rid of any of the students on the team. They usually get rid of themselves. I know that I’m definitely coaching a different generation from when I first started.”
An active member of Mt. Mitchell Church of Christ in Daingerfield, Lewis, the youngest in his family, finds support from his siblings, Rodney Lewis, Natasha White and Yolanda Lewis. He also relied on the support of his late brother-in-law, Eddie White.
“I learned so much about life from Eddie,” Lewis said about their unique bond. “I miss having him to talk to and learn from. My family has always been very close. Still today, we all do for each other. That’s just how we were raised. We take care of each other and we motivate each other.”
Lewis, who has coached every high school sports except tennis and baseball, says he most enjoys working with his father when he’s not coaching.
“I just thank God for the career I’ve had,” Lewis said.
Lewis is also thankful for his wife of almost 18 years, Lesia—his greatest fan.
“What I admire most about Curtis is that he is an easy person to please,” said Lesia Lewis who is the principal at West Elementary School in Daingerfield. “He’s very content. It doesn’t take a lot to make him happy. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be consistent. If he tells you he’s going to do something, you can rest assure it will be done. He keeps his word when he tells you he’s going to do something.”
He’s also kept his word as a coach that children could depend on mentoring hundreds of students over the years.
“If you cut me, I bleed blue, Lewis said. “Being a Blue Tiger is all I know. It’s just who I am through and through.”
Indeed, it is, Coach Lewis.