By John Clark
ELIZABETHTOWN – Excellence, dedication, passion, work-ethic, determination, leadership, attention to detail, role model and family were some of the adjectives and attributes shared by administrators, fellow coaches, friends and former players Sunday in describing East Bladen Coach Patty Evers.
East Bladen’s basketball court will now be known as Patty Evers Court and the inscription on the court was unveiled by some of her current players after a ceremony that included comments from 21 former players and 10 other speakers. Thirty-six of her former and current players were in attendance.
Bobby Kinlaw who was a member of the naming committee described Evers as “dedicated and passionate. She loves Bladen County and has turned down opportunities to advance to the college ranks.”
Another member of the committee, Chuck Heustess, has had 2 daughters play for Coach Evers. “She demands excellence, preaches discipline and work-ethic, and pays tremendous attention to the details,” shared Heustess. “Her teams play hard on defense, and she has a great feel for the game -when to press, when not to and when to make adjustments.”
Melanie Wohlford, Evers’ band director at Tar Heel High, talked about her seriousness as a first-year band student and how through determination and focus she became a 1st chair trumpet player and eventually a leader of the entire band.
Alan West, a member of the Bladen County Board of Education, was asked by Evers to be one of her assistant coaches when she came to East Bladen from Tar Heel after the consolidation in 2000. “I never thought I would still be doing it 22 years later,” said West. “Patty is like family to me and Cheryl (Alan’s wife who also teaches at East Bladen).”
In 21 seasons at East Bladen and 5 seasons prior to that at Tar Heel, Evers’ teams have won 565 games and lost only 134. Her East Bladen record is 491-92, and her Lady Eagles have reached the regionals 10 times, won 4 Eastern Regional championships and finished as state runners-up 4 times.
Last season East Bladen posted a 26-4 record and reached the Class 2A Eastern Regional Semifinals.
Former West Brunswick Coach and Athletic Director Marcia Heady coached against Evers back in the early years at East Bladen and was a friend and mentor. “Coach Evers was in our gym one day and saw a sign honoring my 300th win,” said Heady. “She pointed at it and said ‘I am going to get one of those one day.’ And she did … then she got No. 400 … then No. 500.”
Crystal Evers, Patty Evers’ sister, noted that Patty was the only girl playing Dixie Youth Baseball in Tar Heel and would have played football if they had let her. Their father put up a basketball goal on a wood backboard for the girls to use. “We would play H-O-R-S-E and Patty would make us shoot lay-ups,” said Crystal laughing. “All of you have heard it from her, ‘Run, dribble and Use the Backboard.”
Former East Bladen principal Dr. Jason Wray praised Evers’ team discipline and her attention to detail. “In the military she would be a Chief Warrant Officer,” stated Dr. Wray. “Tradition never graduates but you need to have a system in place to keep it going. She produces winners on and off the court.”
Then Evers’ former players began to talk about their coach. Ashley Brown, a 2004 graduate, talked about her coach’s influence long after her playing days were over, “She has been someone that I can call for guidance and support,” said an emotional Brown.
Jazmine Kemp, a 2011 grad and a star on 3 of the Eastern Regional championship teams, said, “Coach taught us respect for ourselves and our teammates and instilled that we were family. She is a great role model and a great representative for our school and our county.”
Miller Heustess, a 2016 grad, stated, “Coach Evers demands respect and commands an expectation of excellence.”
Lacey Suggs who scored 2,166 points in her East Bladen career talked about Evers support during her tough freshman year at UNC-Wilmington. “She would drive to Wilmington to watch me sit on the bench,” said Suggs. “She was always there – 100% per cent for us.” Suggs stuck it out at UNC-W, later earned a scholarship and posted a double-figure scoring average in each of her final 3 years with the Seahawks.
Several of the former players talked about the efforts Evers made on their behalf – advice, recommending them for jobs, putting in an encouraging word when needed. They also shared that during their careers they had to follow Coach Evers rules – attend class, make good grades, stay out of trouble – or their parents would be receiving a phone call.
In March, 2022 Evers became the first North Carolina coach – male or female – to be invited to coach in the McDonald’s All-American All-Star Game in Chicago. With West and her other long-time assistant Megan Kirby at her side, Evers coached the East team to a 95-75 victory.
In 2019 she coached the North Carolina All-Stars to an 80-59 victory over the South Carolina All-Stars in the Carolinas Classic.
In November, 2021 Evers was named as a recipient of the 2021 John Wooden Legacy Award. She has also won several NCHSAA awards including the Doris Howard Female State Coach of the Year, the Toby Webb Outstanding Coach Award and the Homer Thompson “Eight Who Make a Difference” Award.
After the script on the floor was unveiled, Evers thanked all of those who had helped her along the way. “I fell in love with basketball in the 4th grade, and I went on to play 4 years at Tar Heel for Coach Leroy Henderson. One of the first plays I teach the girls is an ‘Elbow’ play that Coach Henderson taught us at Tar Heel.”
Evers was pursuing a different career when Pam Taylor called her in 1995 and told her Tar Heel needed a girls’ basketball coach. “I have been living out my dream ever since,” said Evers.
Ken Cross who coached boys’ basketball at Tar Heel then later at both West Bladen and East Bladen taught Evers about researching your opponents. “There was no MaxPreps back then,” noted Evers. “Coach Cross would get newspapers from around the state and cut out box scores and save them. I did the same and that was a really thick notebook I saved them in.”
When she arrived at East Bladen in the fall of 2000, a trio of veteran coaches – Lenon Fisher, the late Russell Priest and Sylvester “Coach Mac” McMillan – helped guide her and gave her a great deal of advice.
“I am thankful for the great coaches I have worked with, the great administrators, the media representatives, the PA guys, the cheerleaders, their sponsors and all the others who take care of the details that you need to be successful,” said Evers.
Evers continued, “Today we are celebrating the East Bladen family. All the players, the parents, the videographers, the statisticians – everyone who has contributed to our success.
“I tell the players each year that the basket is still 10 feet high, and the foul line is still 15 feet from the rim,” stated Evers. “Repetition is the key, keep working and working. For those who think just do the best that you can and that will be good enough, I ask why is there a scoreboard up there.”
Evers noted that 3 of her former players – Melissa Macon, Abby Norris and Emily Scott – have their names enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for being selected as national finalists for the U.S. Army/Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence. Scott was the national winner in 2017.
“Just another reminder that academics comes first,” said Evers. “All of those girls were valedictorians, but I do require that our players maintain an 85 or higher average in the classroom.”
Former players who also shared their thoughts and stories about Coach Evers Sunday included: 2002 Alex Lucas Peterson, 2004 Ashley Brown, 2007 JaToya Kemp, 2008 Deja Powell, Tatiana Mason, 2011 Jazmine Kemp, 2016 Christiana Cromartie, Miller Heustess, Lacey Suggs, Abby Ward, 2017 Emily Scott, 2018 Ashley Hardin, JaTyra Moore-Peterson, AnnaKate White, 2020 Lorna Mendell, Katie Evans, Lily Lin, 2022 Maya McDonald, Alexis Mitchell.
AnnaGrey Heustess, a senior on the current team, also spoke.