Profile: Run for daylight

Calera brothers Ty, left and J.J. Evans use sports to overcome the loss of their father and carry on his legacy. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

Calera brothers Ty (left) and J.J. Evans use sports to overcome the loss of their father and carry on his legacy. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By DREW GRANTHUM/Sports Writer

When they were young, The Rev. Thaddeus Evans instilled a love for sports and the outdoors in his sons, Ty and J.J. From an early age, he spent time teaching them how to throw a football, dribble a basketball or the proper way to cast a line. He was a busy man, preaching at the Faith Missionary Baptist Church in the Dogwood community in Montevallo alongside his father, but he was never too busy to be there for his children.

“He worked a lot,” Tara Evans, his ex-wife and the boys’ mother said. “But he always made time for them. Everything they need to survive, he taught them.”

Thaddeus did all he could to make sure those in his life knew he cared about them, she said.

“He was so loving,” Tara said. “Whatever he could do to help people, (he did). His motto was ‘(I) don’t want my living to be in vain.’”

A kind man, Thaddeus also had a competitive fire that burned deeply. Tara said it showed when he played sports, even in a pick up game of basketball. He played just as he lived; with all of his heart.

“They both have (a) competitive spirit like their dad,” Tara said, laughing. “He was very competitive. He didn’t care who you were, he was going to play hard against you. He was that way with everything he did. He was just that compassionate.”

He was especially compassionate when it came to his community, and the people who lived in it, Tara said.

“It’s hard for people now to acknowledge he’s gone,” she said. “We couldn’t go anywhere. HE knew everyone. He knew names and faces (of) everybody he met. That’s the attention he gave to detail. He loved people.”

A man who cared about his family, his community and his faith, Thaddeus did all he could to make sure each breath he took was used to help better the lives of those around him. Although no one realized it at the time, he was building a legacy for his sons to carry on after he was gone.

 

‘PANIC MODE’

It was a Saturday like any other. The boys were spending the day with their father, and were going to go fishing, an activity they all loved

They were at a private pond in Montevallo down County Road 17. Ty was finishing his eighth grade year and J.J. was wrapping up fourth grade, both at Montevallo schools.

It was to be a relaxing afternoon that would kick off summer, just like all the other times they went fishing with their father.

Around noon, Ty decided he would try his luck at another pond also on the property. He bid his father and brother farewell, and set off for the other pond.

It was the last time he saw his father alive.

“We were out about two hours,” Ty said. “We separated, and I went to the bottom lake.”

He wasn’t there long before he heard shouting from the other lake.

“I heard yelling, and I thought it was (J.J.) in the water,” Ty said. “I got to the top, and it was my dad. He was missing.”

J.J. watched in horror as his father’s boat capsized.

“I was on the pier fishing with my step sister,” J.J. said. “I just started hollering. My brother came up, because he thought it was me (in the water). Him and my stepsister were about to jump in to help him. My step mom told (them) not to jump in. We just sat there.”

Both boys said they felt helpless watching their father’s life slip away in front of their eyes.

“I didn’t know what to do,” J.J. said. “I was just panicking.”

Ty said he wanted to help, but his stepmother kept him from it, realizing it was a futile effort.

“(You) go in panic mode,” Ty said. “You try to think of what to do, but it’s an adrenaline rush. You really don’t know how to react.”

Rescue efforts were called, and tried to locate Thaddeus in the 12 feet of water. He was eventually found, having drowned.

 

‘A HARD PILL TO SWALLOW’

The two boys were left without a father, but even more so, they were left without their rock and role model.

“It’s still a hard pill to swallow,” said Tara. “You can still see the pain in their eyes. They’re both gifted, and when that happened, their grades dropped. To witness him lose his life, that took an even bigger toll.”

Like anyone dealing with loss, pain, anger and sadness served as a revolving door of emotions. Everywhere they went and everything the boys did reminded them of the man that taught them so much in life.

Eventually however, Ty knew that in order for his younger brother to move on, he had to. He decided enough grieving had taken place, and it was time to channel his emotions into something he could control.

“You get the feeling that you can’t do anything,” Ty said. “After so long, you just have to get over it. There’s nothing you can do. Dreaming over it for so long, or hoping things get better defeats the purpose. Everything happens for a reason.”

Although he was reluctant to return to the football field at first, his mother encouraged him to test it out to see if it helped with the grief.

“Actually, when he passed away, I didn’t want to go back and play football,” Ty said. “I wasn’t forced to go back, (but) my mom gave me the suggestion to go back and try to see if it helped anything. I went back and it kind of took my mind off things. I put it toward motivation to get better.”

Each found a distraction in the sport their father taught them. For Ty, it was football. For J.J., peace came on the basketball court.

“It was hard not to think about it,” Ty said. “I did some things to take my mind off it, and went back to playing football.”

J.J. agreed with his older brother.

“(My father) taught me a lot of stuff,” he said. “Fishing, basketball and his skills. My brother and my dad taught me (basketball). I just liked it.”

Slowly but surely, the two regained a sense of normality in their lives following the tragedy.

 

‘WHEN I PLAY SPORTS, I DON’T THINK ABOUT IT’ 

Following the accident, the boys left the Montevallo school district and moved to Calera to live with their mother. The upheaval of changing schools could have been unbearable for the boys if not for athletics.

Ty went out for the Calera High team as a quarterback, where he currently starts at the position for the JV squad.

“He’s got a ton of talent and a tremendous arm,” head coach Wiley McKeller said. “He has tools that can be developed.”

McKeller said one of the things that the staff at Calera made sure of was that if Ty needed someone to talk to, there would be someone there.

“Our players have welcomed him with open arms,” he said. “Coach (Jamie) Scruggs and I let him know we’d be there for him. I feel like Ty can come talk to us and trust us.”

Tara said although Ty was only under Montevallo Head Coach Andrew Zow’s tutelage a short time, he helped Ty work through his emotions as well, helping develop his skills at quarterback on the field, and checking in on him and taking him to church off it. Tara said Zow still keeps in touch with Ty.

For the two boys, while there is motivation from coaches and teammates, there is one thing that keeps both of the going on the field and court: knowing that their father is watching them.

“I think about it before every game,” Ty said. “Before every game, we walk the field, we pray and then everybody goes says their personal prayer somewhere. (I pray) for the Lord to watch over me and watch over my teammates as we play the game, and I ask my dad to watch over me. That’s about it.”

In addition to helping his brother use sports to overcome grief, Ty said he knew he had to be the role model for J.J. that their father was for him.

“I’ve always been protective of him,” Ty said. “When I lost my dad, my conscience kind of said I needed to step up and be there for him. He really didn’t have a male figure, so I decided I needed to step up.”

That includes keeping their father’s name a symbol of pride in the community.

“I just try to do things I feel he’d be proud of,” said Ty. “Our last name is kind of known. I think it would be good to keep it going.”

J.J. said he wanted to play not just for his father, but his brother as well.

“When I play sports, I don’t think about (the accident),” he said. “(I) think about the game. When my dad passed away, I didn’t have anyone but my brother. I just stayed close to my brother.”

Tara said she and the boys’ older half-brother, Phillip, do their best to help them out, but knows nothing will fill the void of their father.

“I talk to them all the time,” she said. “But I can’t teach them how to be a man. Their older brother — a truck driver — always checks in with them. Even from the road, he tries to fill that role. Even though (Thaddeus) was my ex-husband, he was still my friend.”
So the brothers continue to play on, for their father, for each other and for those close to them.

“(They) just give me hope,” Tara said. “They’re going to make it.”