In my 40 years of memories from watching girls 52nd District basketball tournaments, not many can compare to 1988 when the Evarts Lady Cats beat the odds and both the Cawood Trojanettes and Cumberland Lady Skins to win the school’s first and only district championship.
Not too many people expected the Lady Cats to win that year, including me, who wrote a column before the tournament began that predicted Evarts would lose in the first round. Evarts beat two very good teams on the way to the title with a balanced lineup that featured Jacquetta Hopkins and two women who have daughters on the current Harlan County team, Leanne Lacy Turner and Kathy Vanover Minor. I still remember some of the younger members of the team at the time, including Kellie Wilson and Melissa Napier, screaming/singing in unison toward the end of the championship to tell me I was wrong.
That tournament also turned out to be the coaching apex for an Evarts legend who died a few days ago.
Earl Rogers was one of the friendliest and most colorful coaches I encountered in my Harlan Daily Enterprise career with a never-ending supply of stories from politics to fishing. In those conversations, usually before or after games or sitting on the stage at Evarts High School watching games after he retired, I discovered Rogers had been a state representative at one time, long before I knew him, and he was the uncle of Roger Broyles, one of my oldest friends who also was one of the best running backs in the history of Cawood High School.
For someone who enjoyed Harlan County/Clover Fork history as much as I did, those conversations were both fun and informative. Not many people could tell a story as well as Earl Rogers.
Rogers was a Clover Fork legend, like Charlie Hunter in many ways, even though the two men had different personalities and were known for different sports with Hunter coaching football and Rogers coaching basketball.
One of my earliest memories of Evarts High School was going to that historic gym with my dad in the early to mid 1970s to watch the Wildcats play in the days when Rogers was the head boys basketball coach and future Hall of Famer Doc Gray was his assistant. My friend, Jim Blevins, the public address announcer for Evarts sports for many years, has a photo of one of those teams posted on his Facebook page in honor of his former coach.
Rogers had his best run as a coach in the late 1980s with the Evarts girls basketball team. It was not an easy job when you consider the 52nd District had three of the top programs in the region when Rogers took over as coach.
Cawood dominated the district in the early days and won the county’s first 13th Region title in 1978. John Bond slowly turned Cumberland into a regional power after taking over in the mid 70s and led the Lady Skins to regional championships in 1984 and 1986. Debbie Brown built a regional power at Harlan with players like Debbie Hoskins and Patti Myers and was the defending 13th Region champion going into the 1987-88 season.
Evarts was clearly at the bottom of the county basketball hierarchy at that point, which made Rogers’ rebuilding job and the 1988 championship even more special. It opened the door for a long run of success by the Lady Cats into the 1990s when Freddie McCreary was coaching and Evarts made multiple trips to the All “A” Classic state tournament in Richmond.
Rogers was an Evarts Wildcat to his core, first fighting many years for a new Evarts High School and then fighting to keep the old one open when momentum started swinging toward construction of Harlan County High School.
Even though he knew I was one of the original cheerleaders for a new county high school being built and wrote about it many times, he never treated me any differently when I showed up to cover an Evarts game and we sat together on the gymnasium stage, talking why the Wildcats played.
When I think of Evarts sports, Earl Rogers is one of the people I will always remember. I know generations of Wildcats will never forget him.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134