Jason Evans: From Copperas Cove Parks & Recreation to World Cup
By LYNETTE SOWELL
A Central Texas man who got his start in soccer on the playing fields of Copperas Cove recently found himself on a bigger playing field when he competed on a team representing the United States at the Amputee World Cup, held in San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco, Mexico, from October 27-30.
Jason Evans is a 1999 graduate of Lampasas High School, but attended Copperas Cove through his freshman and sophomore years of high school.
In 1989, Evans lost his left leg to bone cancer.
“It was an aggressive form of cancer, so (my family) had to quickly decide whether or not to fully amputate, and we chose the full amputation,” said Evans, who now lives in Georgetown. “Both my parents were college athletes, and my dad was in the Army, and they said, ‘We’re not going to let this define your life. We’re going to encourage you, educate you, and support you to learn how to adapt and live a normal life.’”
The first sport he played was baseball, and then he said he started playing soccer at the age of nine and really fell in love with it.
Back then, he had the idea of someday competing in the Paralympics.
“I always had an affinity to be in the Paralympics, as soon as I lost my leg, I just didn’t know how. Living in Texas, I didn’t have easy accessibility to snow sports. I was small, and because of my amputation, running with a prosthetic I wasn’t that fast, so I was limited in what I could do,” Evans said.
But then after his first son was born, Evans wrote a bucket list of things he wished he’d done, to leave a legacy for his sons.
“One of those, I was bound and determined to try out for one of the Paralympic teams. I tried out for the standing ice hockey team played that for five years and then last year, had injuries.
“I wanted to try one more time, before I turn 40, so I randomly ran across the amputee soccer team. I had heard about them before, but I think my pride wouldn’t let me play without my prosthetic, so I forgot about it. But then I found out in September, when they had the last camp for selecting members for the World Cup team.”
Evans learned that one of the team members lived in Houston, so he headed to Houston to meet him.
“I got on the field with him, so he could see I have soccer skills. It was really hard, because I was running on crutches for the first time in my entire life. He then asked me to make a video to send to the coach, to try out. The coach liked what he saw and told me, worst case I’d be an alternate, best case I’d get some play time.”
One of the rules for amputee soccer is that players may not compete wearing their prosthetic limbs, but must use crutches. Another rule is that goalies must be arm amputees.
“Your residual limb is taped to you with your shirt over it, so you cannot use that arm at all,” Evans said. Also, players who have longer residual limbs can’t touch the ball with that limb, and if the ball touches it, it counts as illegal touching. Players also may not use their crutches to hit the ball and there are no sliding tackles.
Evans found himself needing to adapt to playing soccer without a prosthetic.
“Running on crutches is exponentially harder. You don’t naturally develop those muscles,” Evans said. “When you watch the game tape, some of those guys are doing backflips on crutches. It’s insane, the athletic ability they’re able to capture on crutches.”
Evans said that a lot of the other players who use crutches all the time don’t have a stump or were born without a leg completely, or they have a very high stump and it’s uncomfortable to wear a prosthetic.
“That’s why the guys we compete against, bringing forearm crutches into the game neutralizes everybody…a third world country that doesn’t have prosthetics, if we play on our prosthetics, we’d crush everybody.”
When Evans and his fellow Amputee World Cup team members took to the field in Mexico, Evans did get some play time in the first game against Kenya, as a substitute player. After that, Evans continued to play in five out of the six games that team U.S.A. played.
“The coach saw how quickly I could adapt to the game and from that point on I started on defense,” Evans said.
Ultimately, Team U.S.A. finished 17th – its best showing since the Amputee World Cup, which takes place every four years, began. Angola took first place, followed by Turkey in second place, with Brazil taking third place.
“We had a 4-2 record, which was remarkable, because we’re the only team that doesn’t practice together consistently,” Evans said. “Everybody else has months of paid-for training and we have sponsors for us to go to the tournament.”
With the aid of social media, Evans said it’s a bit easier for amputees to find each other by word of mouth. For Team U.S.A., they are trying to grow both in players and in sponsors. In the United States, the amputee soccer ranks number about 50-75, but they are trying to quadruple their numbers.
“Now we’re trying to grow our talent base. We have a lot of great athletes, but we don’t necessarily have soccer players. There were more than 15,000 watching our games and sharing. The U.S. has a ton of amputees, but the problem is that the U.S. is one of the largest countries. We’re so spread out.”
He said that in other parts of the world, amputee athletes are treated as professional athletes, such as in countries like Turkey, where the government and a corporate sponsor, Turkish Air, fully fund the league.
“Turkey has more than 50 teams in their professional league, and if each of those have 20 players on a team, that’s 1,000 players to pull from, all fully funded and paid for with an average $75,000-80,000 salary…the level of competitiveness that they have is light years ahead of what we experience. On the field against them, we are physically capable and more athletic, but because they play together, they literally do nothing except wake up every day and play soccer.
“We are a bunch of dads, a guy who literally started playing and training two months ago for the World Cup, and those guys have been playing and training for years.”
For the U.S. team to travel to Mexico, the team depended on a grant from U.S. Soccer and sponsorships such as by the prosthetic company Hangar.
During the year, the team has one camp, and players fly themselves in to try out for and practice together as a team.
“None of us are professional athletes. I’m a dad, others are college students. We have teachers on the team, our coach is the dean of physical therapy at Stoney Brook university. People have real jobs and it’s hard to take off, and not all companies are cool about it. My company, Optiv, was awesome. They really posted a lot and brought attention and awareness to us. They saw it for what it is, that I was going to compete and represent our country.”
As far as his family’s reaction, Evans’ two sons, ages nine and almost six, are proud of him.
“Both have played soccer but aren’t really dialed in to any specific sport yet. But they love to learn and love to read,” Evans said. “They understand I’m an amputee, but they understand I was representing our country.”
He credits his wife with holding down the fort while he trained prior to leaving for Mexico, and then being away while school is in session.
Five of Evans’ teammates live in Texas, two in the Dallas and three in the Houston area. The six hope to make the rounds throughout the state, recruiting new players.
“We created the Lonestar amputee soccer team, so we’re trying to get together more and grow the local sport,” Evans said. “One of our missions is to do veterans clinics, get vets out and teach them amputee soccer, in the hopes that maybe they’ll find some sort of therapy out of it , or they’ll find they like the sport.”
Evans gave kudos and thanks to his coaches from his early days of playing, starting with his first soccer coach, Rodney Carlton, who was his coach when he played for Copperas Cove Parks & Rec, the first time he played after losing his leg. Coaches like Mike Kerzee, Hagen Streckel, John Jackson, and Billy Cook, along with Felix Volk, who coached Evans when he played on a select team, all had an impact on him.
“If it wasn’t for them, giving me a chance, not treating me any different, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Evans said.
Evans hopes that in four years, he’ll be out there playing again on the Amputee World Cup field.
“If my body holds up, I’ll be there.”