For nearly five decades, Gary Evans was a staple of the Elida track-and-field program.
Evans, who suddenly passed away last week at the age of 71, was still coaching track at Elida as an assistant, where he once was the head track coach from 1973-2007.
After Evans stepped down as the head coach, he focused on coaching pole vaulters at Elida, which was always his specialty. He was a retired business teacher at Elida High School. He also served in the Army.
For years, there have been countless athletes that Evans has coached and mentored along the way.
There have been numerous state qualifiers and state placers that were coached by Evans. Many of those athletes went on to compete at the collegiate level.
I first met Evans when I was in junior high at Elida. I eventually had the opportunity to work alongside Evans as an assistant coach on the Elida track team for the past five years.
I’ve always been amazed at the time commitment Evans made for his athletes. His work was never done.
If a pole vaulter wanted to put in extra work during the offseason, they knew the pits were still set up at the Elida Track Complex, and Coach Evans would always make himself available.
After the spring track season would end, our coaching staff would always put away the hurdles, high-jump pits, and other equipment that was used during the track season.
However, we all knew the pole vault pits were to be left alone. We knew vaulters would use those during the offseason.
I think I can speak for the other coaches on our staff, when I say that Coach Evans did not know a stranger.
At the track invitationals, I was always amazed at how coaches and athletes from around the region would approach Coach Evans to strike up a conversation. One way or another, he had a connection with these athletes and coaches.
He would always break down the top pole vaulters in the region and state, and give his predictions on what would happen in the postseason; and he was usually right on with those predictions. He definitely knew his craft.
There was so much respect for Coach Evans, from both coaches and athletes. For the athletes, they knew he was going to be demanding, but at the
same time, they felt like he understood them, and was concerned for their well-being.
Being a coach, I knew I could always pick his ear and he would not mix words with his answers. He was funny, but he was also very candid.
Elida boys head track coach Tim Folger points to the wisdom of this longtime coach, as a key element to the success the Elida track-and-field program has enjoyed over the years.
“Gary Evans was a great coach,” Folger said. “You expect certain old-school tendencies out of someone who has been coaching since the 70s, but he really was ahead of his time as a coach.
“Gary valued a strong work ethic, and he was candid in communicating both his expectations and his feedback for student-athletes. What truly made him a great track coach was his vast knowledge about the sport, along with a passion for coaching.”
Coach Evans would always tell our coaching staff and athletes, “It all comes down to what you do in the month of May.”
Evans realized that it all boiled down to how the athletes performed at the league meet, and beyond into the postseason tournament, which all started in May. He stressed the importance of putting the athletes in position to ‘peak’ at the right time of the season. He never wavered on his position.
“Nobody will remember what you did at a tri-meet,” Evans would often say with a big grin on his face.
During Evans’ tenure as the head track coach, he notched four Western Buckeye League team titles. Over the past three years, there have been four former track athletes that Evans mentored that were inducted into the Elida Athletic Hall of Fame.
“The Elida track program has been fortunate to experience a lot of success the past few years, and none of it would be possible without the contributions Gary Evans made throughout his coaching career, coaching the Bulldogs,” Folger said.
Evans is in the Defiance College Hall of Fame. Evans, the class of 1970, was a standout track athlete and football player. He graduated from Wapakoneta.
Earlier in his coaching career at Elida, Evans also was on the high school football coaching staff, where he was a defensive backs coach. He also worked with punters.
The last time I saw Coach Evans was less than two weeks ago, when we had track conditioning at the high school. I remember walking out to the parking lot with him as we left the school.
For some, the magnitude of this loss will probably be felt the most when the track season unfolds.
For me, personally, not seeing Coach Evans sitting near the runway for the pole vault, will not seem right. That area of the track complex was Coach Evans’ domain.
For the vaulters, I’m sure the huge loss will give them extra motivation to work on their speed, get their steps down, and extend over the bar.
I’m also certain the athletes will still hear these words of wisdom from Coach Evans, echo in their ears as they focus on their training: “It all comes down to what you do in the month of May.”