John Shearer: Curtis Blair Enjoyed Coaching Champion Baylor Girls Soccer Team

  • Monday, December 11, 2023
  • John Shearer
Baylor soccer coach Curtis Blair is pictured with the 2023 Girls' State Soccer Championship trophy.
Baylor soccer coach Curtis Blair is pictured with the 2023 Girls' State Soccer Championship trophy.
photo by John Shearer

The Baylor School girls’ soccer team was no doubt fun to watch this fall by the students and staff, parents and even other local soccer enthusiasts while capturing its first state championship in six years.

Baylor coach Curtis Blair enjoyed seeing their success as well. But for him, it was the girls’ attitude as much as their altitude of achievement that brought special joy.

“The girls were awesome,” he said after they had been crowned Division II-AA champs following a 3-0 victory over Nashville Harpeth Hall at CHI Memorial Stadium off Ringgold Road in the championship game on Oct. 27. “The girls bought into everything we asked of them. It was fun to sit back and watch them do their thing.”

As coach Blair recently reflected on the team, and his own career in soccer a few days after winning the title, he said his girls were aided by a tough schedule that included playing some of the top public-school programs in the state.

In fact, the only blemishes on a 16-1-1 record were a 0-0 tie against Houston from the Memphis area in an invitational tournament game at Bearden High in Knoxville in early September, and a 3-1 loss to nationally ranked Bearden at Baylor on Oct. 5. 

Coach Blair called the latter game a fun one for fans of the sport. “It was a great game,” he said. “It was 0-0 at halftime. We lost 3-1, but everyone got their money’s worth at the end.”

But some of the toughest competition the Lady Red Raiders also faced was simply among themselves during the training and practices. With roughly 25 or 26 girls who could play high school soccer at a high level, they helped each other get better, he said. While coach Blair cannot say if it was the school’s best team among the other Baylor girls’ teams that have won the state since he arrived, he feels it likely had more depth than any previous team.

“It’s always hard to compare when you go from team to team, but they were very, very competitive and they were the deepest team,” he said. “Some of the best competition came in training.”

Although the team had more sophomores than those from any other class, his core group of seniors helped lead the way, and several of them are planning to play in college, coach Blair said. Jada Cooper and Sophia Mize will follow their sisters to East Tennessee State University and UT-Chattanooga, respectively, while Lily Simpson will attend Rhodes College in Memphis and Elizabeth Stophel also plans to play somewhere, he said.

Another highlight of this year’s season was beating rival Girls Preparatory School, 3-0, after GPS had won the state title in 2022. In fact, a loss by a score of only 1-0 to a strong GPS team last year helped build some confidence for this year, he added.

This season also included avenging a loss to Harpeth Hall in the state championship game two years ago. That 2021 Honey Bear team had a Baylor connection in that one of its standout players was Haven Healy, the granddaughter of former Baylor star athlete Chip Healy.

For coach Blair, his route to leading Baylor to a state championship involved numerous other schools as well. He attended Soddy Daisy High School in the mid-1990s during an era when the Soddy Daisy-Red Bank football game sometimes rivaled or even surpassed Baylor-McCallie for the biggest local game of the year.

Amid all that, he found soccer somewhat unexpectedly as. youngster. His family was going to visit some relatives in Gallatin for the weekend and learned they would all be going to a soccer game in which his cousin would be participating.

“That Saturday we got up and went to watch them play, and on the way home me and my sister were telling my mother we wanted to play,” he remembered nostalgically with a laugh.

That led to going through the Middle Valley Soccer Association that played out at Middle Valley Park off Hixson Pike and playing for coach Richard Northcutt at Soddy Daisy High before graduating in 1996. He was a center midfielder, a position he played because he wanted to have the chance to touch the ball every single time, he said.

After playing at Tennessee Wesleyan in Athens, he had such diverse educational jobs as teaching at Orchard Knob Elementary while also working with the girls’ and boys’ soccer teams at Hixson High.

He then began working with the Tennessee Soccer state club programs in 2003-04 before being hired to coach the girls’ and boys’ teams at Ooltewah High from 2005-07. He led the girls there to their first state tournament appearance, and the boys to their second one before he received a call from then-Baylor coach Jimmy Weekley. Coach Weekley was wanting to step away from coaching both the boys and girls as head coach.

As a result, coach Blair arrived at Baylor in the fall of 2007 and headed up the boys’ team beginning in 2008, with coach Weekley heading the girls and the two assisting each other until coach Weekley left Baylor in the fall of 2013. Coach Blair then took over as girls’ head coach as well in 2014.             

As head coach, he has enjoyed boys’ state titles in 2012, 2018 and 2022, while this was his second girls’ title, with the first coming in 2017. He admitted he could not do it alone, though, also praising the support of girls’ 2023 assistants Talon Stroud, Gabby Kessler and goalkeeper coach Abbey Saddler, a former UTC player.

Despite now being among the veteran coaches locally, coach Blair, who also teaches seventh grade physical education during the day and tries to watch and dissect lots of video on opponents as well, still enjoys coaching. He said this is partly because the Baylor administration – from former headmaster Scott Wilson to current head Chris Angel and all the athletic directors – have been very supportive of soccer, and the school has three quality soccer-only fields.

Most of all, though, he enjoys trying to constantly influence the players in a positive and attentive way, just like his days of always wanting to be around the soccer ball as a center midfielder. 

“First of all, you have to love what you are doing,” he said, adding that showing you care about the players is also important. “You’ve got to know your players. They will play harder if they know you care about them.”

Jcshearer2@comcast.net

Baylor coach Curtis Blair is pictured on campus.
Baylor coach Curtis Blair is pictured on campus.
photo by John Shearer
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