When you totally buy into a sports organization’s mission, you might find yourself coaching for nearly 50 years.
To take it even further, you may be so ingrained in that organization’s mission that you wind up coaching four teams simultaneously!
Such was the case last spring for 73-year-old Gary Evans, who coaches Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) boys’ basketball at St. Mary’s Winfield, Woodside. Evans is already a member of the CYO Hall of Fame and said he does what he does simply because he enjoys it.
Born in Manhattan, Evans moved to Woodside in the mid-1960s when he was 11 years old. By age 13, he joined the St. Mary’s CYO basketball and baseball teams. While he was still playing, he began coaching both sports.
While working for the Postal Service, Evans still found the time to coach and officiate games. He later had a stint as the head varsity baseball coach at Christ the King H.S., Middle Village.
Sports remained an integral part of his life. He continued playing basketball and baseball in the CYO’s Senior Division until age 21 and then in the Major Division well into his adulthood — back when CYO had adult divisions. He also spent time as a professional paddleball player in New York City.
Most people tend to slow down their lifestyle when they retire. Not Gary Evans. Coaching one boys’ basketball team evolved into two teams for about a decade, and then it jumped to three teams for the past few years.
Prior to the past winter season, he was approached about adding one more team. Of course, Evans accepted and wound up coaching the parish’s boys’ teams in Subnovice (second/third grade), Pee Wee (fourth grade), Novice (fifth grade), and Rookie (seventh grade).
During some weekends throughout the season, Evans coached upwards of seven games across his four teams. Luckily, the CYO basketball schedule allowed for more games on the weekends to ensure Evans would be there.
His Pee Wee team won last season’s diocesan championship. Yet through it all, it’s never been about winning for Evans.
“I’m trying to get the kids to believe in themselves and enjoy themselves,” said Evans, who received the Bishop Mugavero Award in the 1980s for his devoted service. “My goal is to get everyone out there to play some. It’s really all about the kids. They’re young. What are they going to learn if you don’t put them out there too much?”
Even more so, it’s always been about forming relationships with his players. He still stays connected to some former players, including Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, president and former varsity baseball coach Nick Melito, former Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, and former U.S. Congressman and Minority Whip Joe Crowley.
“The main thing has been developing relationships and meeting people,” Evans said of his time with the CYO. “The best thing out of coaching was not wins and losses. It’s instead people coming back and remembering those years. I’m always amazed at the men these boys become.”
CYO exists for that very reason. Not every player will go on to play high school basketball, yet for a few years, kids who have a passion for sports can learn important life lessons and develop lasting friendships — to the point where maybe someday their kids are playing sports together.
That all starts with the dedicated volunteers like Evans, who give up their own free time for the betterment of our diocesan youth.
“I always wanted to give back as a coach because other people did that when I was a kid,” Evans said.
He’s already focused on the upcoming basketball season. Currently, Evans is slated to coach three boys’ teams: third, fourth, and fifth grade.
You never know though where he’ll pop up next at St. Mary’s.