BLOOMINGTON — Jed Curtis said there better be extra tissues at Evanston’s boys golf banquet at the high school next week.
The team’s coach is known to get teary eyed when speaking about the seniors, and this season-ending gathering on Oct. 30 should be no different. Curtis already predicted he might cry more than usual.
“I tell the guys when they start playing for me that I love them,” the seventh-year coach said. “But you have to be ready to back it up.”
Chris Livatino, Evanston’s athletic director, saw firsthand Curtis’ connection to the players at the team breakfast before the Wildkits left for the state tournament in Bloomington.
“I didn’t realize how choked up and emotional he gets about this group,” said Livatino, who’s known Curtis since the mid 1990s. “He could barely (get) through his words when talking about them, about the moment and what it meant to him.”
Evanston’s boys golf team experienced its best season ever by tying for seventh at 50-over 626 (310-316) Saturday at the Class 3A state tournament at The Den at Fox Creek. It was the program’s first state appearance since the 1959-60 school year.
Senior Jackson Mihevc attested to Curtis’ commitment to the players, both on and off the golf course.
“He’s been a great mentor to me,” said Mihevc, who’s known Curtis since before high school. “We all look up to him, and he’s more than a coach to us.”
Mihevc said he usually stops by Curtis’ office in the mornings. Sometimes, Mihevc asks the math teacher for help in school. Other times they talk about sports.
“He’s always there to listen,” said Mihevc, who also played at the state tournament as a sophomore. “If I’m struggling with something, his door is open.”
As he’s done for most of his varsity career, Mihevc set the team standard at the state tournament. The veteran tied for 11th after shooting 76-73 for a 5-over 149. Senior Henry Gruger tied for 31st with a 156 (73-83) and senior Jake Casati tied for 49th at 160 (78-82).
Seniors Evan Ter Molen (78) and Marty Fenn (98) also were in the lineup. Juniors Bill Nondorf (176) and Sam Knepper (178) earned invaluable experience in Bloomington.
“He’s always taught us to stay positive out there,” Casati said. “On the bus ride home (Saturday), he talked about how he models his coaching around making us better individuals for when we graduate and go out into the world.
“He truly does care about us.”
Casati and Mihevc both separately agreed this team was their favorite one to be part of in all of their sporting lives so far.
“Because of him I’m closer to every guy on the team,” Casati said. “He pushes you to treat others with respect, to make those extra efforts.
“We became brothers and a family.”
Curtis graduated from Evanston in 1985, and he played both football and tennis for the Wildkits. He took over the boys varsity golf team in 2007, but he’s been involved with the program for more than a decade.
“He bleeds orange and blue,” Livatino said. “He means the world to this team. They had some ups and downs this year, losing some close matches, but he never lost faith in them. To see them emerge and get to the state tournament was all he could have hoped for.”
Before this fall, Curtis had taken one individual player to the state tournament in three of his first six seasons. He said he always envied the schools that brought their whole teams.
“I saw how awesome it was for other teams to be there,” he said. “We felt like this was something achievable.”
But Curtis also said success on the golf course is not everything. His job is about more than birdies and bogeys.
“They have to know you care about them,” he said. “I’m not coaching to win championships or get trophies, although those are nice. It’s about the relationships and the lessons you hope to impart on the players that is most important.
“I just want to have a positive influence on the kids.”