Fontana High School athletic director Evelyn Vance may be retiring but it’s a safe bet she won’t ever escape the competitive drive that drew her to the school 29 years ago. On June 30, Vance stepped down after five years as Fontana’s athletic director and 24 years coaching “just about every sport” at Fontana. Her newfound free time, however, will be devoted to an effort to rejoin the U.S. National triathlon team.
Despite a knee replacement a year ago, Vance, 60, is ready to dive back into the regimen that took her to 10 Iron Man competitions. She’s hoping that feats the likes of a 2.5-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride capped by a full marathon lie ahead of her. The fruits of the journey she’s leaving behind are nothing short of impressive.
“I came here in 1980 and it was the start of an empire,” Vance said. “I was running a junior high program that looked like a small college program. The town took me in and I’ve taken so much pride working in this city and for this school.”
The first female athletic director in Fontana history coached swimming and volleyball the majority of her career. She took over as athletic director when Fontana was recovering from a lack of devotion to the athletic programs and was knee-deep in the transition away from being a one-school town.
After dominance in the 1980s that peaked with the Fontana football team’s mythical national championship in 1987, the city became home to Miller, Kaiser, Summit and now Jurupa Hills High School, which will open in the fall.
“She took over at a tough time after we had a few years of poor management in athletics,” said Skip Fazio, a coach and teacher at Fontana since 1976. “It took her a few years to get it back to where coaches can build but now athletics are more of a priority again. She put in more time and effort than anybody I’ve ever been around.”
Vance was always one who favored effort over results from her athletes, something she came to appreciate when stability and the resulting success became harder and harder to come by for the Steelers’ tradition-rich sports programs. With students and teachers bouncing around to different schools in Fontana, the quality of the Steelers’ athletic environment dropped significantly before Vance took over as athletic director in 2004.
“We weren’t at the bottom, we were where the alligators were biting at our feet so they could get to the bottom,” Vance said. “I think now we have it stable to the point where they don’t need me. ”
Vance coached swimming for 26 years, volleyball for 23 years, and spent time coaching basketball and cross-country in addition to being the first girls water polo coach in school history.
What she lacked in stature — Vance stands 4-foot-11 — she more than made up for with a beaming attitude and relentless devotion.
When administrators became required for coaches to be on campus, Vance was the first to volunteer. She made sure the athletic experience was never limited to just practice and games, once taking her water polo team on a trip down the Colorado river from Needles to Lake Havasu in Arizona.
“If you were on her team, you knew you’d be doing things other than playing for her,” said Kathy Binks, who has been on the Fontana Unified School District board for 23 years. “She was almost like a second mother to a lot of them. I sometimes feel that when she got to be athletic director, she figured out that adults don’t snap to it like kids do. I told her not everybody is as passionate and driven as she was and she needed to understand that.”
The passion and the drive clearly aren’t going anywhere, except through the rigorous training process of a triathlete.