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Eisenhower boys basketball coach Mike Curta, center, with his kids, Vinny, left, and Nick, right, during practice at the school in Blue Island, IL on Wednesday December 5, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Mike Curta never coached his sons, Nick and Vinny, in basketball while they were growing up.
He left those responsibilities to other parents, though he devoted plenty of spare time to improving his boys’ skills.
However, when the time came for Nick and Vinny to attend high school, Curta wanted to be a part of the experience.
There was one problem: Curta coached at Eisenhower while his family resided in Evergreen Park — which isn’t part of District 218, home to Eisenhower, Richards and Shepard high schools.
The only way for Curta’s ambition to be realized was if he moved his family, including wife Dana and daughter Aleksa, into District 218. So he did.
The Curtas moved to Oak Lawn five years ago, setting the path for Nick and Vinny to join their father at Eisenhower.
“I thought, ‘How great would it be to be able to coach my kids in high school?’ ” Mike Curta said. “When I got the job here, we moved into the district.
“Coaching the boys was always something I wanted to do since I got into coaching. I’ve had four years with Nick and two with Vinny, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.”
Neither would Nick, a senior, nor Vinny, a sophomore.
That’s not to say the unique experience hasn’t had its moments of frustration. However, the joys have far exceeded the disappointments.
And those fulfilling moments aren’t exclusive to the basketball court.
In fact, what Mike Curta cherishes most about the experience is the drive to and from Eisenhower.
Those are the moments when the Curta boys talk about life — be it music (both kids are fans of hip-hop, dad is not), friendships, girls or, of course, basketball.
“To be able to wake up and drive my kids to school has been more than a pleasure,” Mike Curta said. “It’s just having fun, spending time together and talking.”
Or sometimes not talking — depending on the outcome of a game.
“The car ride is always interesting,” Nick Curta said. “There are times when we’re crying we’re laughing so hard. There are other times, usually after a loss, when it’s silent.”
The Curtas are in the stretch run of this rare journey. Nick graduates in May; Vinny will graduate in 2015.
Like most sibling relationships, the Curta brothers are competitive. Each yearns to be better than the other, though the ultimate goal is to win.
Vinny also has a way of getting under Nick’s skin.
“Sometimes I feel like I can get away with more because he’s my brother,” Vinny conceded. “I’ll push my luck sometimes. But Nick will let me know when I mess up.”
Just as Vinny will let Nick know when he scores more points than his older brother.
“Oh, yeah, he’ll let me know about it,” Nick, a team captain, said with a big smile. “There’s competition between us. Even though I’m a captain, Vinny will say what’s on his mind to me. Other teammates know when to stay quiet. He’ll just keep on going.”
Neither boy has had Dad as a teacher. Mike teaches geography.
But when their paths cross during the school day, Mike makes certain to cause a scene.
“He’ll come into one of my classes or see me in the hallway and give me a hug or a kiss,” Nick said with a laugh.
“He’s always trying to embarrass me,” Vinny said. “He’ll come up and give me a hug or say something like, ‘There’s my baby.’ I’m used to it.”
On the court, Eisenhower has received more attention for its style of play than its results. Curta installed an uptempo system patterned after Grinnell College’s that demands shooting the ball every 12 seconds on offense and applying fullcourt pressure on defense.
It’s produced mixed results, though Eisenhower did earn a share of the South Suburban Red title two years ago.
While basketball is their first love, Nick and Vinny are multisport athletes at Eisenhower. Both also excel on the golf team in the fall, routinely breaking 40 for nine holes. Nick, after playing baseball last spring, will try volleyball in the upcoming season. Vinny again will play baseball.
Though success on the court has been sporadic, that hasn’t been the case in the classroom.
Nick, who takes all honors and Advanced Placement courses, scored a 30 on the ACT and sits No. 5 in his class with a 5.13 GPA. He’ll attend Grinnell, a Division III school, in the fall.
Vinny has a Top 12 standing in the Class of 2015 and boasts a 4.5 GPA. He still has time to figure out where he’ll play college ball, though he doesn’t discount Grinnell.
“I have time to think about that,” Vinny said.
While having their father as coach has brought on some scrutiny, whispers of preferential treatment have been minimal, especially since both boys were promoted to the varsity midway through their freshman seasons. When grumbling has occurred, the disenchantment has come from opposing teams.
If anything, the thought that favoritism might have handed them their spots has made the boys work harder to prove they belong.
“It raises the bar and the expectations,” Vinny said. “But for me, when I make a good play and he’s cheering, knowing I’m making him happy is a great feeling. I’m blessed to play for my father and with my brother.”
The boys have heard other parents complain about their father, mainly for running the Grinnell style offense. But, again, it’s been minimal.
“The criticism is just part of being a coach,” Nick said. “My teammates are very respectful. They’ve been incredible. I wouldn’t trade my friends at Eisenhower for anything. Some parents say stuff, but I don’t say anything back. My dad always says to be respectful. It’s not worth it.”
For now, they’re all focused on this season. Nick plans on soaking everything in this final go-round with his father and brother.
“It’s exceeded all of my expectations,” Nick Curta said. “The three of us getting to share this experience and we’re all closer because of it. We’ve done everything together. Going to college is not going to be fun the first few weeks.”