Willie Eviston was the fuel for Union High School athletics.
He helped end a pair of boys basketball droughts.
He set new standards in the Rockets’ golf and baseball programs, while also running cross country for the Rockets.
He excelled in four sports and in doing so, helped put the Class A school from Modoc in the spotlight.
Eviston is also the first Palladium-Item Myyon A. Barnes Athlete of the Year finalist.
“He meant everything for this program,” boys basketball coach and athletic director Jeff Holloway said. “I think that for a long time, people will still compare things to what Willie did — not just basketball — he’s a great young man, you see him in the halls, he had that type of personality and it showed on the floor. Everyone wanted to play with Willie.”
Most of the Rockets’ basketball team did play with Eviston since first grade, building a strong chemistry that was almost unbeatable.
Eviston, Tanner Cates, Gentry Patterson, Keegan Guffey, Nick Glaser and Kole Nunley all played together since first grade, along with 2012 graduate Conner Shore and younger brother Spencer Shore, a rising senior.
Together, they won IHSAA Class A Sectional 56 in 2012, ending a 42-year drought.
Then, they earned a repeat title in 2013.
“Last year when we won it I think it was by surprise,” Eviston admitted. “We knew we were capable, but it was hard to win those three games in a row.
“… When we won that one, the whole community came together, then I think our mindset this year was we couldn’t let them down.”
They knocked off Seton Catholic in the championship game for a repeat regional trip, but not before ending another drought.
Motivated by the death of classmate Caleb Tinsman, the Rockets won the Randolph County title for the first time in 50 years, defeating Winchester — the only class 2A school in the county — 51-43.
“For the county, I think we came together because of the death of Caleb Tinsman,” Eviston said. “We were going out every game playing our hardest so that got us ready for county and sectionals. We knew we could do it since we did it the year before.”
Holloway took over at Union in 2008, watching Eviston’s class develop from middle school.
“He did everything,” Holloway said. “… He was just one of those kids and he’s special — I think that’s the word that sums him up. He’d do what we needed him to. He could shoot the basketball, was a good ball handler, set guys up (and) he can score, I think the main thing with him, he’s skilled at whatever you need him to do. We needed him to score, be aggressive all the time, and he can make other things happen.”
Eviston averaged 17.9 points per game this year as the Rockets went 17-6.
He is third in school history with more than 1,300 career points.
Basketball wasn’t even his first love.
Eviston started playing t-ball as early as age 3, he recalled, and for a while that was his favorite sport.
He developed into a key pitcher and shortstop for the Rockets baseball team that won the first Randolph County crown during his sophomore year.
He batted close to .500 this year.
“Just a great kid to be around,” head baseball and assistant basketball coach Doug Shore said. “We’ve had about four or five kids like him here in the last couple years that are just athletic and coachable, great attitude and just been a fun part to be around.”
“…They never worry. If you ever see them play, they absolutely never lose focus. They don’t rattle. It’s been a joy to have them.”
Eviston split the spring season between golf and baseball, though he had to give up track before his freshman year, where he ran hurdles, relays and competed in the long jump.
He then picked up golf competitively, and turned out to be pretty good at it.
As a junior, he qualified for the golf regional, then took the team with him as a senior.
He was medalist of the Monroe Central sectional — the first in Union history — and the team finished third, advancing to the regional for the first time in school history, too.
That came with the first Mid-Eastern Conference and Randolph County titles in program history.
“He’s competitive,” golf coach Bill Marshall said. “It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re playing dominoes or what, he does what it takes to win.
“… I think a big part of our success was the fact that he was able to advance to regional one year as an individual and that was one of his goals. Because it was such a good experience for him and he cares about his teammates, he wanted to bring them along.”
Eviston’s athletic career is over for the moment.
He heads to Ball State University to focus on studies, but the small high school that meant so much to him will always have a place in his heart.
“I love it there,” he said. “I loved how small it was, you’re pretty close to everybody. I liked it. — I wouldn’t trade that school for anything.”