Player, dad keep hearts in game
- kerry eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
On Sports • Father of L and C senior tight end still a fan even as he struggles in long cancer fight
Butch Evans expects to be in the stands at Griswold Stadium on Saturday afternoon, when Lewis and Clark opens its season against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Nothing new there. Evans has attended each of the Pioneers' games, home and away, since 2008.
Moreover, Evans has never missed an athletic event played in by his son, Shawn, a senior tight end at L and C.
We're talking from third grade on - in football, basketball or baseball.
What's different this time is that Butch Evans, 58, will be watching from a wheelchair. Two weeks ago, Evans underwent surgery at Oregon Health and Science University to remove tumors from his spine.
'Lucky I'm not paralyzed,' says Evans, who has been battling prostate and bone cancer for the past six years.
The surgery, Evans' third since his initial cancer diagnosis, was necessary.
'Had I not had this, my doctor said I was looking at less than six months' to live, he says. 'They always say we can't predict the future, but he thinks this will keep me alive for another two years. And with the possibility of new (medical procedures) coming every day, maybe longer.'
Evans is probably still alive in part due to his close relationship with Shawn, his only son and one of his two children.
'I don't know if you could have a better relationship with somebody,' Shawn says. 'I'm super blessed and privileged to have him as a father. He has been absolutely great. He is my best friend. Words can't describe it.'
The elder Evans, who lives in Damascus with his wife, Diane, and daughter, Pamie, went on disability retirement on June 22 after 32 years as an excavating contractor for Northwest Natural Gas.
'I knew the cancer was catching me,' Evans says. 'My blood level was telling me that. My oncologist recommended I sell the business and go on disability.
'The good thing is, I can spend more time watching football practice. That's a dream come true.'
Evans has gone through radiation, chemotherapy and a lot of pain during the past few years. He never gives in.
'Dad is as tough a guy as there is,' Shawn says. 'When I was a little kid, he broke his kneecap on a job. He finished the job that day and never missed a day of work. That's just how he is.'
The extended illness has been difficult for the family, too.
'We've been dealing with this for so long, we're all kind of used to it,' Shawn says. 'But being my age and seeing my father to the point where he doesn't have much time left to live, to see the struggles he has gone through … it's tough.
'But he is a heck of a fighter. I don't think anyone could handle it better.'
Teammates help out
Shawn is not your average player. As a high school senior, he quarterbacked Portland Christian to a 12-1 record and the Class 2A semifinals. After a redshirt year as a freshman at University of Sioux Falls (then NAIA, now Division II), he transferred to Lewis and Clark following his father's cancer diagnosis.
'It was really close to home, and I wanted the opportunity to help rebuild this program,' Evans says. 'It was a unique challenge. I like the offensive system. It fit me as a player. I wanted to be part of something, where we're on the bottom to build this thing back up and make it a good program again.'
Lewis and Clark has endured 14 straight losing seasons and, in 2004, disbanded its team after four games because of low squad numbers.
Coach Chris Sulages came on in 2005 and, in his first three seasons, the Pioneers went 1-26. They improved to 2-7 in 2009 and last year were 4-5, the program's most wins in a season since going 4-6 under Chuck Solberg in 1996.
The 6-3, 235-pound Evans - now in his fourth season as a starting tight end - has been a big part of the rebuilding process, with 123 career receptions and a good measure of leadership. A Division III preseason second-team All-America choice, he is one of only two Northwest Conference players selected for consideration to the postseason D3 Senior Classic all-star game.
'Shawn is a really good player,' Sulages says. 'Not every team at this level has a tight end with that size matched with his speed.
'And he is a great kid. He has a work-study job in the athletic department, does well in school, is always working out, always doing something to stay busy. And he's done a great job helping his dad and his family.'
Shawn gives credit to his mother - a TSA employee at Portland International Airport - and sister in that regard.
'Mom's a trooper,' he says. 'She works crazy hours and sometimes doesn't get home until 1 or 2 in the morning, but she has taken over helping out with Dad. Pamie gave up a scholarship (in equestrian) at New Mexico State to stay home and help with Dad.'
Shawn says some of his teammates have even stopped by the Evans house to help out at times.
'Everyone has been affected by cancer at some point in your life,' Sulages says. 'Butch's situation has been kind of a rallying point for everyone in our program.'
'All the veteran guys know him, and a lot of them have pretty close relationships with him,' Shawn says. 'It's inspirational for our team to have him around. He's kind of the guy we all focus on. It hits home with a lot of people.
'The coaches and my teammates have been absolutely great. It's nice to have that support when you've gone through some tough times. We've had some pretty bad ups and downs, especially in the last year, with him.'
Butch rattles off nearly a dozen names of Pioneers he knows well.
'It's a really fine, kind group of guys,' he says, 'tough kids who want to come out and prove they can play football with the best of them.
'I'm proud of every darn one of them. It's like a brotherhood over there. When they drop by the house, it brightens up the day. There's always a good laugh with those characters, I'll tell you that.'
The Pioneers have launched a 'Battling for Butch' campaign, selling wristbands for a suggested donation of $3 to help defray the Evans' medical costs.
'I see people I've never even met wearing them on campus,' Shawn says. 'It's pretty cool to see that.'
Shawn is on course to graduate with a degree in psychology next spring. He wants to pursue a career in coaching. 'I want to stay around the game as much as I can,' he says.
There's a little more on the line this season than usual.
'I play every game with the hope that Dad gets to see another one, in case it's his last,' Shawn says. 'I have a close relationship with all my family, but especially my dad and his parents.
'All three of them are living on borrowed time. Every moment I can be with them, I'm there.'
His father doesn't plan to go away anytime soon.
'I don't think he'll miss a game,' Shawn says, 'as long as he is alive.'
Butch says his son can count on it.
'I've been told for almost five years that I had months, that I had days left,' he says. 'I refused to believe it. I've overshot that by quite a little bit. I'm planning to overshoot this.
'I have two great kids. Shawn is the kind of young man you'd want your daughter to marry. Diane and I have had 26 wonderful years together. I tell everyone, 'Don't feel bad for me if I die. I'll show you the way people are supposed to die.' '