BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – We are not jealous of Mark Evans
We understand that birds as colorful as he, with spirits as free as his, need to spread their wings. But still we can’t help realize that our world will be just a bit more drab when he does fly from it.
After 14 years, Evans is leaving his job as head football coach and guidance councelor at Elco. And the Lebanon County sports scene will be a little more dull because of it.
Evans recommendation as the new head football coach and guidance councelor at Manheim Township High School, a higher-profile Class AAAA program, was approved by its school board this week. Evans has always been upwardly mobile, ambitious and wanting of the best for his family.
“That’s what keeps me motivated,” said Evans from his cleaned out office at Elco. “I fear stagnation. In college I was kind of a transient person. We (he and his family) have stability now. But it never meant I wasn’t happy here. I could’ve seen myself here for 35 years.
“I’m a driven person,” Evans added. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a new adventure for us. I’ve always tried to do the right thing. The kids were always the center of the focus.”
If Evans has been pro-active in the pursuit of happiness over the years, what makes his move to Manheim Township a bit ironic is that this time he was the one being pursued. In other words, the Blue Streaks actively recruited Evans, not the other way around.
When the district’s school board couldn’t reach a consensus on its next head football coach, a member of the board – a former college classmate of Evans’ wife – reached out to him. Manheim Township offered Team Evans the position, and after some deliberation, it accepted.
“It was something I really wasn’t looking for,” said Evans. “It happened so fast. There was a lot of fast and furious dialogue with the family. I tried to keep a level head. It’s very flattering when someone comes after you. It’s a sign of what we’ve been able to do here.
“It’s (the timing) very much out of whack,” Evans added. “I have 14 years of building a program. We’re 70 days away from kicking off against Central Dauphin, the defending state champs. Yeah, we’re at a little disadvantage. But I look at it as an obstacle. It’s a challenge. I’m excited about the change.”
During Evans’ tenure, Elco went from being a ‘soccer school’ to a ‘soccer and football’ school. He was constantly faced with the challenge of getting more kids to come out for football, so the Raiders could remain competitive with similar-sized Class AAA programs.
“I’m not getting any younger,” said Evans, who is planning on re-locating his high-school-aged family to the Neffsville area. “I’ve always had goals to coach at a higher level. It was an opportunity for advancement. You get to the point where you have to weigh the pros and cons. It was an opportunity to realize one of my goals. The family is all in.
“It wasn’t that my time at Elco wasn’t fullfilling,” continued Evans. “Through great risk comes great reward. There’s opportunities that we have there that we don’t have here, one of which is lacrosse. Being at a bigger school there are more opportunities, but you don’t have that personal touch like you have here.”
Elco was strictly a soccer school when Fred Poorman founded the Raider football program in the late 1960s. Following Poorman’s departure, Elco went through a string of head football coaches, before Steve Oliver laid the groundwork for Evans’ arrival.
Fourteen years ago, the then 30-year-old Evans took over the program.
“Steve Oliver did a great job of bringing stability to the program,” said Evans. “I’ve been the longest tenured head coach consecutively. My career record isn’t great, but we’re not in a football hot bed here. I think we’ve raised the bar. We’re not everyone’s homecoming game any more. I’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat and soul into the program.”
“I’ve still maintained some level of enthusiasm,” said Evans. “I’m the same involved person I was when I started. I’ve certainly gotten smarter. Experience is a great teacher. To me, I think I’ve grown as a head coach. I’m a better football coach. The passion for the game hasn’t waned. I’ve always been a big motivational guy. Leaders are made, not born.”
Under Evans, Elco qualified for the District Three Class AAA postseason on four different ocassions, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2009. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment on the field was turning a 1-9 club in 1999 into a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three champion in 2000.
Evans has always displayed a flair for making the most out of his offensive weapons, turning a mundane attack into a dynamic one.
“One thing at Elco, you’re always going to have ebbs and flows,” said Evans. “That’s what kept me going, the belief that this was the year we’re going to have a good team and we’re going to stay up there, turn the corner and the program is going to explode.
“It’s not about winning,” Evans added. “It’s about guys being able to look back on their experiences. My definition of success was, ‘Yes, we want to win. We want to work hard. We want to grow. We want to leave a legacy.’ It really made me feel good to hear back from players when they heard about me leaving. Just because I’m changing jobs doesn’t mean my time here wasn’t special. Once a Raider, always a Raider.”
Over the years, Evans became famous for forging a unique slogan for each team, making it that year’s rallying cry and using it to motivate his troops. Expressions like ‘Leave a legacy’ and ‘Fear the Spear’ became synonymous with Elco Raider football.
“There’s not one team that stands out for me,” said Evans. “Each year, that’s a memory. With each team we talked about what our identity was, what our character was. I hope my legacy was a strong one.
“I wanted my players to hear this from me, and nobody else,” continued Evans. “I always told them if there was anything to share with them that I would share it with them. Hopefully they learned something from me because I learned something from them.”
The last couple of years have been lean ones for the Raiders, who went 3-7 in 2011. But the program appears to be healthy.
“They’ll be returning eight starters on both sides of the ball,” said Evans of the 2012 Raiders. “As far as the program is concerned, the equipment, the locker room facilities, the next guy is not going to want for anything. Those things are leaps and bounds better than when I got here. Hopefully, I left a mark here. It sucks saying good-bye.
“My affairs are in order,” Evans continued. “My house is in order. The hardest thing was saying good-bye to these guys. I spent a third of my life here.”
During his time at Elco, Evans was rumored to have applied for a number of head coaching positions at bigger schools, including his alma mater, Cedar Crest. But he rarely made those inquiries public.
Evans did not feel comfortable commenting on those applications when asked about them.
“There’s been rumors I’ve applied for jobs that I didn’t apply for,” said Evans. “And there’s been rumors that I’ve applied for jobs that I did apply for. There’s been people who have come after me. The first time when the Cedar Crest job opened up and Mike Robinson got it, I didn’t apply.”
After graduating from Cedar Crest, Evans, an offensive lineman, played Division One football at the University of Miami. He also coached at Lebanon Valley College before going to Elco.
“It’s just another game,” said Evans of the prospect of playing Cedar Crest every year. “You have your rivalries. The big rivalry for Manheim Township is Hempfield. Cedar Crest is where I went to school.
“This wasn’t an easy thing for me to do because my kids grew up only knowing Elco,” Evans added. “There’s so many guys who permeat my memory. When you think about it, I’ve been involved with a lot of lives.”