By Trey Williams
Bob Evans, a four-sport standout at Science Hill (class of ’54) better known as Little Bob, went from repeating sixth grade to becoming the principal at Science Hill in the mid-1980s.
The late Evans, who died in 2014, “hoboed a train” to Georgia when he was 12 or 13 years old with a friend. He said he was AWOL from his family more than a week. Part of his punishment was repeating a year of school.
Evans’ loss was Science Hill’s gain. By the time he was a senior, Evans was a coveted football recruit headed to Virginia Tech.
Sidney Smallwood coached Evans in basketball and track and field at Science Hill. He said a significant percentage of athletes graduated high school at 19 years of age in that era, but Evans was one that wouldn’t have needed the extra year.
“Little Bob was a man,” Smallwood said.
Friends said Evans grew up hard in the “Third Ward” section of Johnson City around Columbus Powell. He joked in 2008 about seemingly moving during his childhood every time the rent was due.
Athletics was an escape – a place where toughness was not only frowned upon, but rewarded. And there was a level playing field. Politics and money didn’t seem to determine opportunity the way it often did outside the lines.
A broad-shouldered 6-foot-1 end, Evans was a force on both sides of scrimmage for Science Hill and East Tennessee State. He transferred back home after signing with Virginia Tech, where he’d excited Hokies coach Frank Moseley. Evans was announced as a starter for the Tech freshman team and Moseley described him to sports writers as “one of the outstanding prospects to enroll at Virginia Tech this fall.”
But Evans said he didn’t like the military-like atmosphere at Tech. So he was soon playing for Star Wood’s Buccaneers, where he became a Little All-American (small college).
Elizabethton football coach John Treadway, who became better known as a basketball coach, lauded the receiving skills of Evans and Bob Taylor while they were at Science Hill. The late Taylor, who went on to start at Vanderbilt and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, played multiple sports with Evans at Science Hill.
Their basketball team started the season 26-0 during Evans’ senior season before losing by a point to Memphis Treadwell in the state tournament at Vanderbilt.
“I thought the world was coming to an end that night,” Evans said.
Science Hill star guard Ernie Ferrell Bowman, who went on to play shortstop for San Francisco in the 1962 World Series, recalled Evans being a tough-minded floor leader that could be intimidating.
“Little Bob was so spirited,” Bowman said. “He just didn’t believe in losing. We’d won 26 in a row and we were down maybe two points at halftime. He grabbed me by the jersey and gave me a look and said ‘Don’t you pass it.’ I started shooting more.”
Evans downplayed his skills.
“I was just an ole plugger,” he said.
That, of course, hardly does him justice. He played center field for the ‘Toppers. He hit a grand slam and drove in nine runs in a win against Jonesboro.
Another Science Hill teammate, Bob May, has always been a man of few words. However, he quickly weighed in on Evans.
“Bob Evans was probably the best all-around athlete at that time,” May said.
The 1953-54 Science Hill basketball team had a reunion in the fall 2008. Smallwood and the five starters – Evans, Bowman, Taylor, Jerry Wolf and guard Phil Walters – attended.
“Let me tell you, it was the greatest feeling in the world to look at them all together again,” Bowman said. “Bob Evans put his arm around me and said ‘Doesn’t it make you wonder what we would’ve turned out to be if we hadn’t had sports?’”
Evans worked 32 years in the Johnson City Schools system. He was a teacher, coach and administrator.
“We didn’t have anything coming up,” Evans said in 2007. “The playground was about the only place we had. Athletics ended up providing me all kinds of opportunities. I’m just so thankful for all that Science Hill and the Johnson City school system has given me.”