Her arms are scarred and finger polish chipped. From a small country town with an attitude to match, she has a mean competitive streak. At first glance, it makes sense that Hayleigh Evans is a softball player, but she was born an entertainer.
A senior softball player and journalism major at Colorado State University, Evans was born in Gretna, Neb. to a conservative family. It was a small town and she always wanted a bigger stage to entertain on.
“When people ask me what I want to do when I grow up, I always tell them I want to be famous,” Evans said.
Evans sang for anyone that would listen from an early age, even to people she barely knew. She used to make concert tickets and hand them out to people, most of which dutifully sat and listened to the show Evans prepared for them.
Evans participated in multiple singing competitions and even tried out for American Idol once. After six seasons of watching the show faithfully, she realized that if she was going to sing, then she needed to stay in her range. It’s one she’s now found in the style of newer R&B artists like Kehlani.
Nobody expected that her first shot would come on a diamond rather than a stage.
“Athletics is kind of the last thing I expected when she was younger,” said Mike Evans, Hayleigh’s father.
As she got older, though, Evans’ athletic ability became readily apparent. Her older brothers prevented her from playing wiffle ball with the boys. But in time, they were vying to have her on their team. Her parents say she throws harder than both of her brothers, one of whom plays football at Drake University.
In her sophomore year of high school, Evans tried out for the softball team. Until that point, she was known mostly as the actress or singer type. She made the team, but she also learned firsthand how much an activity can define your identity.
“I feel like I didn’t fit into either group very well, I was just kind of chilling in the middle,” Evans said.
There was friction between Evans and her old artistic friends, forcing her to make new ones. She felt betrayed by the fact that they seemed happy to not have to sing against her anymore. Then they went on to not talk to her about softball, either. Even so, she’s happy the transition happened. In her simple terms, she would not be here if it didn’t.
“When you take one path over another, doors close on you in the other,” her father said.
So Evans kept following the doors that opened. After a successful first season of softball, she transferred to a Class A powerhouse where she recorded a .403 career batting average and forty stolen bases with plenty of personal and team accolades to boot. Some of those included district championships and three All-State honors as a player.
After what seems like a forgettable freshman year both socially and athletically at Creighton University, Evans found her way to CSU. It is here where Evans has blossomed as a player and person.
Throughout her sophomore year and first season at CSU, Evans put her competitiveness to good use, mostly appearing in pinch running opportunities. In her junior year, she finally got a chance to play every game as she hit .217. Evans sees herself as one of the more competitive people on the team and says she’ll put in the extra work if she feels threatened for her starting spot.
“She’s not ultra competitive at all things,” Mike Evans said. “But when she is, she takes it personally. Telling her she’s not something makes her angry.”
That attitude has suited Evans well, allowing her to pursue multiple interests rather than be stuck in one niche. Ironically, it was not her competitive spirit that led her to connect with her fellow athletes at CSU. It was the thing her mom, Geni Evans, says never left: singing.
Last year as a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, Evans began arranging events for herself and other student athletes. The Rammies, an award night for student athletes, allowed Evans to showcase her voice for the first time at CSU. According to her parents, it’s also the time she first started to feel accepted here.
Preconceived notions of athletes were hurting Evans, even within the group she was most clearly a part of. But her singing ability allowed Evans to connect to her teammates in an entirely different way..
“It changed her whole perspective at CSU,” her father said.
From here, Evans’ life is going to shift again into a role her degree has prepared her for while allowing her to be the performer she never stopped being. She plans to move to the coast and pursue her singing career while working in a job that connects people, whatever that may be.
For Evans, it’s not if her singing career will take off, it’s when. This is the same confidence and tenacity that earned Evans a free education and a plethora of athletic accolades.
Though she combined her passion for singing with softball, the entertainer in Evans never escaped. After all, she was never just an athlete.
Collegian reporter Mack Beaulieu by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Macknz_James.