Glenn Curtis: Champion of Martinsville High School Basketball

Basketball is clearly the Hoosier sport of choice. Anybody who has spent any time in Indiana knows this to be true; hoops fever is everywhere in Indiana, from the largest Indiana high school gyms to the smallest backyard courts. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the hometown legends of Martinsville, Indiana is basketball coach Glenn M. Curtis, a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, mentor to John Wooden (another famous Martinsville resident turned legendary basketball coach), and an extraordinarily powerful motivator. Born in 1890 in Eminence, Indiana, Glenn Curtis attended Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. His short lived career as a basketball player took place at Indiana State University from 1908 to 1912, but he spent all four years as a reserve. Curtis would return to the Indiana university later in his career and become one of the school’s winningest coaches, but he earned those collegiate coaching chops through a 21 year stint with the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

Glenn Curtis (known to his players and colleagues as “Ole Fox”) began his high school sports career with Lebanon High School. In his first and only year as head coach, Curtis led the Lebanon Tigers to a 28-2 record and a victory at the 1918 Indiana High School Boys Basketball State Championship game, earning the Tigers the state title. After his success at Lebanon, Curtis coached ten games for the Mooresville Pioneers at Mooresville High School. But during the Christmas break, Glenn Curtis left Mooresville, Indiana for Martinsville, which is where he was catapulted into a spot amongst the stars of Indiana sports.

Glenn Curtis fostered one of the most successful periods in Martinsville sports history, leading the Martinsville High School Artesians to a total record of 396 – 139 over a nineteen year period, a period in which the Artesians dominated IHSAA basketball in Central Indiana. As the coach of three Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame players (John Wooden, Arnold Suddith, and Lestor Reynolds), Curtis certainly had the tools for success at his fingertips, but it was his skill as a coach and motivator that really brought the Artesians to the next level; the team never had a losing record under his leadership. Along the way, Glenn Curtis coached six Indianapolis Star All-Star teams, won sixteen sectional titles, fourteen regional titles, and three state titles in 1924, 1927, and 1933. Thanks largely to Curtis, the Artesians played in the state championship game every year but one from 1924 to 1928; he was the first high school coach in Indiana to win four state titles.

After his spectacular career coaching high school basketball in Martinsville, Glenn Curtis migrated back to his alma mater, Indiana State University. In 1938 he became the head coach of the Sycamores, bringing another Indiana basketball team to local prominence. His first three seasons were uneventful (except for a 15-3 record in the 1939 – 1940 season), but by 1941 the Sycamores were participating in the NAIA Championship tournament. During his career at Indiana State University, Curtis almost matched his high school win/loss ratio of .740 with a record of 122 – 45 (a ratio of .724), but the closest his team got to winning the national title was in the 1945 – 1946 season, when the Sycamores narrowly lost (49 to 48) to Southern Illinois University in the championship game. By the time he left Indiana State University, Glenn Curtis was the the leader in wins at the university; to this day, he still has the third largest number of wins in the Indiana school‘s history.

Glenn Curtis would have a few more years in coaching, though none as successful as his time at Martinsville High School or Indiana State University. He experienced his first losing record during his one year as head coach of the Detroit Falcons, a member of the now-defunct Basketball Association of America. He left the Falcons after that ill fated 1946 season and joined the Indianapolis Jets, a former NBA team that was the precursor to the Indiana Pacers. The Jets made it to the playoffs in Curtis’ first (and only) season, but lost in the first round. Perhaps due to these failures or perhaps because he was getting tired of keeping up with the rigors of a full basketball season, Curtis retired from coaching in 1948 and moved back to Martinsville, where he became the Superintendent of Schools.

Glenn Curtis passed away in Martinsville in 1958, at the age of 68. He was one of the winningest coaches in Martinsville High School and Indiana State University history. He took the Lebanon Tigers to a state championship in his first year as head coach, brought the Martinsville Artesians three state championships and dozens of smaller titles, and led Indiana State University to an impressive 122 – 45 record over eight years. This famous Martinsville person was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1964, one of the first coaches to be given the honor. Today, his name is still remembered around the halls of Martinsville High School, where players and coaches alike honor his legacy on the court.

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