Dan Evans

Swimming is a lifetime sport. Once you learn to swim, you can swim forever. For Dan Evans, his life has been all about swimming. Hired in 2002 to become the West Salem High School swim coach, Dan has built an amazing high school swim program at West Salem High, and he has left a lasting legacy on the Salem community with his dedication and passion that all people learn to swim.

It was inevitable that Dan would end up as the swim coach at West Salem High School. He grew up as a West Salem kid, attending Brush College Elementary and then Walker Middle School before ending up at South Salem High. Of course this was long before there was a West Salem High. He is a third generation graduate from Salem high schools. His early years in the pool helped to build his love for swimming, and his desire to be a swim instructor and coach.

Dan started swimming at the YMCA when he was 4 years old. His mom is the main reason he and his brothers got started in swimming lessons. She wasn’t the strongest of swimmers and she wanted her boys to be safe around the water. He took to it fast and flourished at the Y, finishing the program at age 9, climbing through the levels with ease. The final test at the Y is to teach a swim class. So, he taught one class, and then kept going every day for years, earning YMCA volunteer of the year in 1981, at age 12. In total Dan has been teaching swimming lessons for 40 years. By his best estimate, he has taught swimming lessons to over 4000 young people, and a few adults, in Salem. This is a legacy to a lifetime of swimming and especially to the community of Salem.

Growing up in Salem, Dan learned the values of hard work from his parents and his grandparents. His grandfather lived by a code of hard work, and Dan greatly admired him for that. Hard work is a characteristic that has been a cornerstone for him as a coach over the years. Dan was always one to have multiple jobs. While one of those jobs was almost always in and around the pool as an instructor, lifeguard, or coach, he also spent his teenage years in a variety of other jobs. One of those was working for an uncle that had a blasting company. Dan helped set up blasts for rock quarries, road building, and even the occasional building. Fun, dirty, and especially hard work. Dan also spent time working in a family decal business, as well as working for his dad who ran a trophy shop in South Salem.

Dan is the oldest of three brothers and has fond memories of life in Salem as a youngster. Like all Salem kids, he has shared many of the usual ‘I am from Salem’ events in life. Standing in line at the legendary Elsinore to see Star Wars is a great memory, as is attending his first ever concert - The Oregon Jam - at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, and also going to the Oregon State Fair.

Like all West Salem kids from his era, Dan had a choice to make after middle school: Do I go to North Salem High or South Salem High? He chose South Salem. He remembers sitting at his first pep assembly as a 9th grader when the football team came onto the floor to speak. Tony Figuero leaped out of the stands from about four rows deep and ran to the microphone yelling, screaming, and pumping his hands in the air. Right then and there Dan knew he had made the correct choice to be a Saxon.

Dan was an excellent high school swimmer, competing all four years at South Salem before graduating in 1987. He competed at the state swim meet and was a part of several district championships. He went on to swim for four years at Willamette University where he was the team captain his senior year, graduating in 1991 with an Economics degree.

During two of the most impactful moments of Dan’s life, it was swimming that helped him overcome the difficult time. During his sophomore year of high school one of his best friends died in a car accident on Glen Creek Road. Then during his senior year his father died. Swimming seemed to provide an outlet during those emotional times, and provided fun. Travel opportunities for swimming - to Bend, Washington, Florida, and California and earning top five honors - provided an outlet that helped Dan overcome those two impactful life events.

Dan is thankful for the coaches he has had along the way during his swimming journey. Kathy Bryant was his first coach, teaching him to work hard and push himself. He was the only swimmer who came every day, and swam every yard. Even when he was covered with the dreaded West Salem poison oak he was always at practice, something he loved. John DeRoast was a coach that pushed him harder than ever. There were several years when they swam at Chemawa Indian School, and Roswel Sear was his coach there. Coach Sear encouraged him and pushed him to practice more butterfly than he ever had, perfecting the stroke. At South Salem it was Terry Robinson coaching the girls and John Turman coaching the boys. Later, Terry Robinson was his boss when he first started coaching as a volunteer at South. She was helpful in letting Dan push the team to new levels, and the Saxons won a district championship in 1999. Dan is especially proud of that performance. The boys won by two points and it took everyone scoring points to register the win.

When West Salem High School opened in 2002, Dan was the obvious choice to be the head coach. With his West Salem background, coaching prowess the previous years, and his commitment to swimming instruction, then Titan Athletic Director Dick Bellock had an easy choice. Year in and year out he has always always looked for the best opportunities for his teams. Practicing in this community is always a challenge and Dan has made sure that his teams always have sufficient training time in the pool. Over the years he has had high school swim practice at Olinger pool, The Courthouse, Salem Tennis & Swim, Western Oregon University, The Kroc, and probably a few others. Transportation posed both a financial and a logistical issue in getting the swimmers to WOU. So, Dan studied for and got his Commercial Driver's License, so he could drive the school bus (the big yellow ones!) in an effort to save the district money and get his swimmers to and from practice. Talk about going the extra mile for his swimmers!

Dan has coached the Titans to 10 district team titles - 9 girls and 1 boys. He has coached two state champions and three All-Americans. Some individual standouts and teams are Nelson Westby (St. Olaf College), Micah Masei (University of Hawaii), and McKenzie Rumrill (University of Arizona), as well as the 2008 boys team that earned 4th at state and won the 200 Free Relay gold medal. Twenty two years of Titan success in the pool, led by Coach Dan Evans. For Dan, these athletes all represent what he wants West Salem High School swimming to embody, a great work ethic. Hard work in the pool will carry over to hard work in life, a characteristic that stands out in Coach Evans.

Dedication and loyalty are two words that describe Dan Evans as a coach. Having grown up in West Salem, he has only lived on the “other side of the bridge” for a short time period. When he first volunteered to coach at his alma mater - South Salem - he was there virtually every day. His dedication took him to camps in Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center in Washington. He started a tradition of a team camp for his Titans, a training trip to Camp Rilea. That continues to this day. His dedication to excellence applied to all ages when he got hired at West. He built his “feeder” programs. From 2003-2010 he ran swim camps at Walker and then Olinger Pools, averaging approximately 120 swimmers when it was at Walker. Dan has always been dedicated to the swimming community and, especially, West Salem swimming. He now, in addition to his coaching, has been teaching in the West Salem community for over 10 years at the elementary level. Dedication and loyalty are true components of the coaching character and philosophy of Dan Evans, and he has instilled them into hundreds of West Salem High swimmers.

Dan’s hard work and strength of character have opened many doors for him in life. He is in his 10th year of teaching at Harritt Elementary. He loves traveling and has fostered that passion in his three kids, Abby - 15, Emma - 13, and Owen - 10. (You won’t be surprised to know that all three of Dan's children are also avid swimmers and all have that same Dan Evans character trait: hard work.) Dan and wife Deborah met on a missions trip to Uganda in 2005 and have now celebrated their 17th anniversary. Their first date was in a McDonald's in an airport in the United Arab Emirates. In recent years, Dan and Deborah have gathered up their family and twice traveled across the United States by RV. He has walked on the Great Wall of China, been to the Great Pyramids, taken an African safari, spent a year in Germany, and traveled in a van across Mongolia. There were many highlights in these journeys, but to a true Yankee fan like Dan, none is greater than seeing the Yankees play in legendary Yankee Stadium. 

Dan also has two brothers – Kelly and Joel. Like Dan, they both grew up in West Salem and attended South. Both were outstanding athletes as Saxons. Kelly won a state baseball championship under fellow 2024 Beacon honoree Terry Haugen and played for four years at Willamette University where he was a captain of the baseball team for four years. Joel played both football and baseball at South.

Thousands of young people in Salem have experienced the love and passion that Dan Evans has for swimming as he has influenced their lives. He is a true lifetime swimming coach and a lifetime swimming instructor. His dedication, loyalty, and especially an incredible work ethic have helped Dan to leave an indelible mark on the community of Salem. Dan Evans has most definitely earned the title of Beacon.

By Scott Whipple/Bryan Sutherland