Alumni Spotlight: Howie Evans
*Howie Evans was a sports writer for the Amsterdam News, a long time basketball coach. During his early childhood, Evans moved back and forth between Harlem and the Bronx until finally settling in the Hunts Point where he attended PS 75. Despite an overwhelmingly white dominated school, Evan’s friends were very integrated and he did not encounter much racial tension. Evans began playing basketball around age 14 and later attended Morris High School. City newspapers wrote about Evans’ skills on the court and he received a scholarship to play at NYU, one of the country’s elite basketball programs at the time.
However, he never got a chance to play because of a racist coach. He soon lost his scholarship and transferred to Maryland State, where he played basketball, football and wrote as a correspondent for The Baltimore Sun.
Howie Evans did not grow up without conflict or struggle, however, and was surrounded by a lot of gang activity. Evans in fact credits a man named Vincent Tibbs for saving his life one night during a dance contest. Evans had a knife pulled out on him after having asked a group of guys to clear the dance floor for the contest. As the room emptied in fear, Tibbs pulled Evans into his office, told him of his potential, and refused to let him leave until everyone had cleared out of the building. It was only one week later though and Evan’s gang fought a Latin gang called the Lightnings.
The fight headlined the next day’s paper and was called one of the worst gang fights in the history of New York. A book was also later written about it entitled, The Last Great Gang War.
Basketball helped Evans spend more time away from gang activity and he believes that it may ultimately have saved his life. Evan’s love of basketball was a lifelong affair, and in 1973 he founded the National AAU program, a basketball league that allowed the area’s talented youth to compete. Evan’s spent a lot of time at the Community Centers and received a Board of Education license. One example of Evan’s influence is a youth and adult program on the Upper East Side called the Wagner Center that he created. The center provides a number of programs like GED, English and even Boxing classes. Evans also later worked with the Black Panthers to create the breakfast program, to feed hungry kids in the morning, and the program later spread citywide.
Evan’s work as a sportswriter for the Amsterdam News began because of a friendship with Wilt Chamberlain. The two used to play basketball in Mt. Morris Park on 120th Street and Evans says the newspapers would write “horrible stories” about Chamberlain. An infuriated Evans wrote a story in defense of Chamberlain to the Amsterdam News and it was published. The editor later called Evans and asked him to write a weekly article. Evans later became a columnist for the paper and covered the Jets, becoming the first black sportswriter in professional football.
*Biography courtesy of Dr. Mark Naison of the Bronx African American History Project, Fordham University
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