I got a text late Monday night from my friend Benny Rogers.
We were scrambling to get the newspaper together; I looked at my phone and my heart sank.
His text said Curtis Corley had passed away. Memories of Coach Corley started flashing before my eyes.
Our area and our state lost not only a great basketball coach, but a great educator and a great person.
I remember meeting Coach Corley back when I was still in college. A classmate of mine had played basketball for his wife, Prissy, at Athens High School. So we happened to run into the couple one night and he asked what I was studying. I told him journalism with an eye toward sports. He said something along the lines about his love of coaching. He told me being a writer would give me an opportunity to stay close to the game, meet many great educators and coaches and keep myself young by watching kids play.
That was close to 40 years ago.
So I went into sports writing and it gave me a chance to watch Coach Corley win a bunch of games and a state title. When I first came to work at the Tyler Morning Telegraph in 1983, one of my first assignments was a feature on Coach Corley and his LaPoynor High School girls basketball team.
He and the school welcomed me with open arms. I remember Coach Corley saying, “Phil, you don’t have to use all their quotes, but if you wouldn’t mind, will you interview all the kids?”
It was another message how important “team” was to Coach Corley. He wanted everyone included. He said it takes everyone to accomplish a goal.
And Coach Corley put his all into that mission.
As Benny noted, the LaPoynor Flyerettes played with heart, just as their coach coached.
“Like their coach, kids Curtis coached played with heart, played hard and with determination to win,” Roger said. “And they won a lot — a lot. But, also like their coach, they played with great sportsmanship and did not disrespect their usually-outmanned opponents.”
Many nights I would take Coach Corley’s call about the Flyerettes’ game. Coach Corley would also mention how hard the other team played and complimented the opposition.
Coach Corley was passionate on the sideline. He was always well-dressed and had his penny loafers on so he could stomp on the floor to get his players’ attention.
The formula worked.
In 2003, I covered the Flyerettes winning the 2003 Class 1A Division I state title with a 52-47 win over Gruver in Austin. It was LaPoynor’s ninth appearance at the state tournament and Coach Corley’s crew got the championship.
Coach Corley had a huge smile as LaPoynor was added to that state championship list.
It was a second state title for him as he was a member of the 1967 Brownsboro High School state championship team.
He coached more than 30 years, both girls and boys teams.
In 26 years at LaPoynor, he was named Henderson County Coach of the Year 14 times, took a team to the state tournament nine times and won an incredible 24 district championships.
Coach Corley once told Joe Elerson of the Athens Review back in 2017, “I grew up on a farm, picking tomatoes and peas and watermelons. Even though I enjoyed it, I knew that was not what I wanted do. I always wanted to be a history teacher and a coach. It was what I desired to be. When I was in junior high I won an essay contest to be in a calf scramble in Houston. My ag teacher took me to Houston, and I went to his alma mater, which was Sam Houston State University.”
Coach Corley, who married his high school sweetheart, Prissy, graduated from SHSU and his first job was at Eustace High School.
He said he always wanted to teach at LaPoynor and his friend, Duane Nichols, the longtime great Flyers basketball coach who won state titles in three different decades, hired him.
The first two years at LaPoynor, Coach Corley did not coach but he did start the Little Dribblers program, which has been integral to the success of the powerhouse LaPoynor teams.
Coach Corley was at LaPoynor from 1978 to 2004 and had a record of 666 and 146.
Now, the basketball arena at LaPoynor is named for friends Coach Corley and Coach Nichols — Nichols-Corley Gymnasium — to remind folks of special people like Coach Nichols and Coach Corley.
Coach Corley molded his players to be better people by using basketball.
We are all better for having known Coach Corley.