The Southland Times Legends of Sport series returns as we highlight those people in Southland who make sport happen and do it with little fanfare. Today Don Wright outlines the impressive deeds of a long-serving legend in Southland athletics, Evan Jones.
There are many ways of measuring the vast voluntary contribution of Athletics Southland life member Evan Jones, who is not a flashing comet across the sky but is "in for the long haul" by unselfishly serving a sport so close to his heart.
The 70-year-old Otatara resident and doyen of coaches who projects a cheery and helpful image in athletics, has never been backward in putting his hand up if he thought he could help young athletes to achieve.
If he is not doing something beneficial for Southland athletes in semi retirement, then he can often be found in his role as caretaker at Fernworth Primary School, Pomona St, on the site of the former St George School.
"Enjoying running myself and doing all I can to encourage others has been a major part of my recreational life and I don't have any firm intentions of retiring . . . My heart is in athletics and the St Pauls club as much as ever," he enthused.
"I'm only putting back something into what I have enjoyed myself and I still love coaching with about 20 harriers and track runners to train."
Over the last three years athletics in Southland had benefited from the restart of the Wyndham, Otautau and Riverton clubs, also Te Anau and Winton being back in the fold, he said.
He revealed that his beloved St Pauls club was the Mainland base for several Stewart Island athletes.
"Right through Southland we have experienced the highest national upsurge per capita in numbers of competitors in all grades."
Jones much prefers to highlight the achievements of those he has helped along the way than to extol his own virtues. He assigned field events aspirants to specialists big Lou Heenan and Jim Glasson.
Understandably, he is proud to have at some stage coached nine Southlanders to represent New Zealand overseas during 1987 to 2011 in Tracey Kennedy, Jared Crawford, Michael Pugh, Jackie Brown, Trudy Burdon (nee Haukamau), Sean Burgess, Barry Ledington, Michael Christmas and Heather Skerrett.
Jones recalled there was a time when he was going to "quietly slip away from coaching" but St Pauls had undergone such a strong resurgence that he didn't think the time was right.
A snapshot of Evan's background achievements would be incomplete without mention of his being a board member of Athletics Southland and chairman of the Southland Harrier Committee, not to overlook his service with the Athletics Southland track and field committee.
Many relate to him as instigator of the popular milk Run concept around Queen's Park and supporting his close St Pauls associate Graeme Hyde with the Surf to City extension.
At a time when many coaches were "putting their hands out for money", Evan had never wanted to be paid. Personal satisfaction was best measured by seeing his protege excel, not cold cash rewards.
Educated at Tisbury Primary School, Tweedsmuir Intermediate and Southland Technical College, he first worked as a cycle mechanic, then for Housing New Zealand as a building supervisor before joining Harcourts as a property manager for eight years and Southland Real Estate for a similar period, retiring in 2009.
Those varied work roles equipped him to relate effectively to people from most walks of life.
Many in athletics will be surprised to learn he wanted to be an All Black "but I couldn't find the changing rooms." He enjoyed playing for Collegiate, firstly in fourth and third grades with the likes of Gordon Murphy, Martin Lane and Terry Butson.
Nine from thethird grade team upgraded to senior and won the Galbraith Shield in the mid-1960s against Old Boys for mentor Alex Gray and were also coached by Southland and All Black pivot Len Wilson. A former Southland age-group representative, Evan was a hooker-loose forward.
"We ran a lot over 880 yards, miles, and steeplechases over summer to keep fit for rugby."
Evan's love affair with St Pauls Athletic Club has spanned 55 years, starting with Graeme Hyde and Norman Shaw first talking him into it when he was 15.
He is currently president of the club, having served twice earlier in that capacity. His winning ways with people have been acclaimed by many as the reason for his acceptable profile at the club's helm.
In 1976 he won the Southland marathon title around the Invercargill streets of Layard, Queens Drive, Yarrow and Racecourse roads in 3hr, 3min and 11sec.
"I remember hitting the wall near home when it felt as if some person had jumped on my back and I went from six minute miles to nine minute ones but I had worked sufficiently clear of the pack earlier to hang on."
Evan was no early day slug as a miler, winning once on grass at Riverton in a respectable 4min 15sec.
Attending an Arthur Lydiard School over the demanding Waitakere Range, near Auckland, taught him the tortuous need and discipline for distance running, he said.
Many relate to Evan as official starter for Athletics Southland for at least 30 years, also at national championships in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
In 2008 he was Southland coach of the year with the prize being 200 cans of sponsor Watties products, including many baked beans.
A career pinnacle was being highly commended at a New Zealand Athletics coach of the year function in Auckland, another, joining mate Mike Piper in the inaugural Keplar Challenge in 1988 over a searching 67km course.
And his last word: "Southland is boxing above its weight in athletics, due in no small way to our coaches and former athletes who are bringing their children into the fold."
- The Southland Times