For Hahnville, Curley Willis set the tone as its first-ever coach

Curley Willis during his coaching days at Hahnville.

Started football, baseball teams at HHS

Curley Willis will always be remembered as the first.

He was Hahnville High School’s first coach in football and baseball, and it suited this sports lover well.

Cookie Gomez, who played on the school’s football, baseball and basketball teams under Willis, feels he contributed so much to the school he’s asking officials to dedicate the football field to him.

“In 1948, we had a pretty good baseball team,” Gomez said. “He was coach of it then. We won the state championship in 1950.”

Willis also started the school’s football team and coached it for two years when he returned to teaching and administration at HHS.

“He knew all the fundamentals, but we were all green,” Gomez said. “We had played some football, but this was the first time we had 11-man football at HHS. I would say that he was a good coach by the fact he was the first one there and he had a lot of raw recruits.”

Gomez said he and his wife, Ruby, were just fine people.

For Karen Bernard, Willis’ daughter of Sunset, La., she remembered her father with so much love that talking about him brought her to tears.

“My dad was the kindest man I’ve ever known,” Bernard said. “He never uttered any kind of off-color language. He didn’t drink. He smoked a pipe and cigars, and I can remember as a child him smoking.”

Willis grew up the oldest of 10 children in Bunkie.

Bernard, an only child, said he quit school to go to work to help his parents, although he later finished high school in north Louisiana when he was 21 years old. A determined Willis went on to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and got a bachelor’s degree in teaching in 1929, and then went on to LSU for his master’s degree.

“The whole time he was at both universities he worked because he didn’t have a lot of money,” she said. He played football and baseball at Southwestern and was a member of the “S” Club.

Curley Willis

Willis went on to teach at Hahnville High School (HHS) and soon met the woman who became his wife, Ruby Nagel of Edgard, who also was teaching there. They were married in 1939 and Bernard was born in 1942.

“They taught their whole lives in Hahnville and both retired from the school,” she said.

“My mother taught in Luling and then taught fourth grade in Hahnville. She  taught so many students in St. Charles Parish in her teaching career,” Bernard said.

“Daddy was … remember the E.F. Hutton commercials where people listen? … well, everyone listened when he spoke (as a history teacher he did like to talk),” she said. “He was a soft-spoken guy who expected a lot from his students and athletes. He coached until I started first grade and not long after his team went on to win the state championship so he was very proud of that.”

Bernard recalled her father’s recollections about what it was like to start the football team.

“I remember him telling me about when they first started playing football,” she said. “There was no place to practice so they went into literally a cow field, and they would have to clean up the cow patties. He told me lots of times, that before they could practice, they would have to clean up the field first.”

She also remembered her father’s dedication to the players.

“Daddy always went to everything – all the games – at HHS,” she said. “Teachers helped with concessions and the gate, but my father went religiously to all of the games unless he was ill.”

Willis instilled his dedication in his daughter, who goes to HHS games when they play in the Lafayette area and she has season tickets to UL football, softball  and basketball.

But Bernard added, even when her father retired, she knew he still loved sports.

In the fall of 1982, Willis was honored at an HHS-DHS game and it meant a lot to him.

Bernard said. “I know he was really proud when they honored him on his 80th birthday.”

She knew he was so proud that when her father died she gave the flag that covered his casket to HHS.

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