Preaching sports — like an EVANGELIST

June 22, 2002|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Sports Editor

Steve Evangelist has come full circle.

It was nearly 40 years ago when the Evangelist family moved to El Centro, and Steve Evangelist started at Central Union High School as a sophomore and varsity football standout.

Education and stints coaching and teaching in the Midwest, at Imperial High and at Southwest High in El Centro took Evangelist away from his alma mater, but he's back at Central, where the 53-year-old El Centro resident is athletic director and vice principal.

"It's worked out well. I'm extremely fortunate to be back where I started," said Evangelist, who returned to Central in August.


From an era in which Central reigned supreme in nearly all sports — from Cal Jones' football squads of the late 1960s and '80s, to Evangelist's own boys basketball teams of the '80s — Evangelist is making it a mission to bring back the glory days of the great Spartan teams, something that has been lacking in recent years after the district split into two high schools.

"Athletically, we've been on a downslide," he said, adding that students being taken from Central by Southwest High has affected Central's sports programs.

Evangelist, however, realizes this is a classic case of a district building a new high school. He saw it happen outside Chicago when he was teaching at a high school there.

While it's been several years since the Central district split, he said it's nothing more than a period of adjustment.

"Southwest made its mark. It became an attractive place for the kids," he said, adding, "It's nice getting back to maintaining the tradition we've established. It's been a tough road with the split.

"We've had to fight that dilemma. With time we hope to regain our status in the community," Evangelist said. "We're going to have to re-establish ourselves and we will."

He noted, "We're not very far off track."

The 2001-02 school year has been a promising one for Central. The school has gotten back to its winning ways in several sports, including golf, soccer, track and field and baseball.

He said the girls soccer and golf teams as well as the boys track team, nabbed Imperial Valley League championships.

What's more, the boys golf and baseball teams slugged it out with its Valley rivals right atop the IVL standings.

"Next year we look to improve on that," he said. "Some teams develop more surprisingly than others. … Our coaches are putting in that extra time."

Evangelist maintains he's working under an administration — at the high school and district levels — that is supportive of its sports programs.

Central Principal Emma Jones is a former coach and physical education teacher and Central district Superintendent Richard Fragale was involved in sports officiating for many years.

"It makes my job easier to know my superiors are in favor of strong athletics programs," he said.

That's Evangelist. Positivity, positivity, positivity.

"I always like to be positive, create a positive atmosphere for the kids," he said.

"Maybe some of our teams didn't fare so well in the win-loss column, but they were positive experiences for our students," Evangelist said. "We're doing things we feel will create that positive atmosphere. Winning takes care of itself."

In the case of district high schoolers, he even sees the creation of two high schools as a positive.

"There are more kids that are able to participate (in sports) because of the two programs. This has given them an opportunity to participate and feel confident and comfortable they can be part of the team."

Evangelist has been part of a team nearly all his life.

As a three-year Central varsity football starter at running back, Evangelist had the opportunity to play for Cal Jones — a man he credits as a mentor from the first day they met — in the legendary coach's first year with the district.

After graduating in 1967, Evangelist was part of the short-lived Imperial Valley College football team, where he was a slot back and went on to become a Junior College All-American.

In 1971 Evangelist attended the University of California, Santa Barbara on a full athletic scholarship.

Evangelist's coaching career began a few years later when he went to Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., to get his master's degree.

While there he hooked up with Jones, who had left Central to coach at WIU. Evangelist became Jones' secondary coach.

"I stayed there one year, then got my first teaching job in Sioux City, Iowa," he said.

Working his way back to the West Coast to be around his family, Evangelist returned to Central in the mid-1970s to take an assistant coaching position with the football team under a new head coach.

Said Evangelist: "I inherited the head coach job because the coach they hired backed out at the last minute" two weeks before "Hell Week."

The self-described "green" coach spent two years at Central before taking over as athletic director and football coach at Imperial High for two years.

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