Hall of Fame welcomes six individuals, champion football team

Kay Fackrell inducts the 1997 state championship football team into the Evanston Hall of Fame. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

The annual Evanston Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place last Friday, Sept. 23, at the Roundhouse. Inductees included the town’s last state championship football team, four other athletes, a physicist and the late Dennis Ottley, all of whom had humble beginnings at Evanston High School.
The ceremony began with a short invocation by Reverend Augustine Carrillo and a welcome speech by Hall of Fame Committee chairman Dan Wheeler. He thanked Iced Tee Catering, as well as the event’s three sponsors. These included Wyoming Credit, Coach Phil Peterson and the family of 2021 inductee Tally Stevens.
The first inductee called to the stage was Rebecca Bennion, who Wheeler said was not inducted last year due to a conflict with the Weber State Hall of Fame. Bennion’s twin sister, Rachel Bennion, inducted her. In addition to the program’s description, which notes that Rebecca was a four-state athlete, had finished first in several regional and state meets, was involved in multiple extracurriculars and had several other accomplishments, Rachel clarified that in Rebecca’s program photo, she is lapping the other contestants.
Rachel recalled an event that the two had run together by saying, “She stopped to tie her shoe in the middle of the race and still won.” Rachel lauded Rebecca’s dedication, saying that there is a “heart and soul” her sister takes into her endeavors. “She continues to put that heart and soul into her family, friends, students, athletes and anything she puts her mind to.”
Rebecca began her acceptance speech with a clarification. “Let it be known,” she said, “that I would never have tried a single thing in middle or high school had Rachel not started it.” She added that her experience coaching has given her a new outlook on what coaches do for athletes. “I definitely took for granted all the hard work and effort every coach I ever had put into making it possible for me to have the opportunities I had,” she said. She thanked her family for their support throughout her time as an athlete.
The second inductee was Dr. Shane Burns. Jim Williams, his high school science teacher, inducted him. Williams praised Burns, jokingly taking credit for his student’s career in physics. “He got degrees at the University of California, got his bachelor’s, master’s, PhD; he’s been a visiting professor in Wyoming and contributed to a Nobel Prize Team.” Williams was referring to Burns’ work on the Supernova Cosmology Project, which works to detect exploding stars in galaxies nearby. Burns is now a full professor of physics at Colorado College.
Burns gave credit to those who supported him. “I have never done anything alone. Everything I have done has been with the support of others, so I have to thank a few of them.” He thanked his wife, Stormy Horton. With some emotion, he said, “She’s been there through everything.” Burns said he needed to thank several teachers, as he had spent a total of 22 years in school, and in the process had granted him a number of admirable instructors. “One of the best I ever had was Mr. Williams,” he said. “Not only did he teach me chemistry and physics, but he allowed me to explore some pretty crazy ideas that I had.”
Next was Jaycee Carroll, whose father, Jerry Carroll inducted him. Jerry said that his son had been a five-sport letterman while also participating in student government. Jaycee won the Gatorade Player of the Year award twice, and was the leading scorer in Wyoming basketball during his junior and senior years. In college, Jaycee played on a scholarship for Utah State and broke 10 records. Jerry offered an anecdote during his speech, saying that he had anticipated seeing Jaycee on the bench through most of the game, but Jaycee had reassured him, seemingly optimistic that he would play. “He had 29 points in that game, and we weren’t worried after that,” said Jerry. Jaycee is currently ranked second in the NCAA for three-point shooting average, at 46.5 percent accuracy. Jaycee went on to play in Europe, and spent the last 10 years of his career with Real Madrid, which is virtually unheard of for American athletes.
Jaycee thanked the Hall of Fame committee and everyone involved in the event. “Everywhere I’ve played, I’ve been proud to tell my teammates that I’m from Evanston, Wyoming, ” Jaycee said, adding  he had been fortunate to have the support of people in Evanston, from his family to his coaches. He joked that he was grateful for a former University of Wyoming basketball coach, for whom he didn’t play. “He did such a bad job of recruiting me. One phone call was all it would’ve taken, and I would have been a Wyoming Cowboy,” Jaycee said. “I still love to see that brown and gold. I just love seeing Utah State beating them.” He thanked his wife, who supported him throughout his international career, as well as the Evanston community.
Kay Fackrell then inducted his son, Mike Fackrell, once a participant in most Evanston High School athletic programs, but a passionate football player. During his time on the team, he earned three varsity letter awards, an offensive player of the year award, a most valuable player award and several player of the week awards.
Apart from these accomplishments, Mike received countless honors in a number of sports and participated on one of Evanston’s best football teams in 1994. Kay said he was once unsure if Mike would have an interest in sports, as he had first been interested in drawing and disassembling things. In Mike’s sophomore year, said Kay, “Our team qualified for what was nicknamed the toilet bowl.” He clarified, “If you’re last in your league, you meet the other team from the other side of the state that’s last in the league, and you play for nothing.”
Kay recalled during one game, when Mike had fumbled the ball, asking his son, “Which flipping team are you on?” Mike clarified late that his father’s chosen word had not been “flipping.” Kay said that Mike’s last two years went well, and he kept up his momentum in college. “He was inducted into the Chadron State College Hall of Fame several years ago.” Mike was recently selected as one of Wyoming’s top players of the past century, and was the first Chadron State underclassman to rush over 1,000 yards in a season. His college career ended when he broke his ankle in his third game in 1997.
Mike said he appreciated being on the other side of the podium after watching several inductions, and he was similarly grateful to be honored alongside what he considered a notable group of inductees. He recalled practicing in high school, and told spectators that he, like Burns, had not accomplished anything alone. “The Red Devils have always been a family thing for me.” He said his parents were the “best athletic supporters” he knew. “They’ve always been there.” He added, “I attribute a lot of success to my older brother, Pat.” He said, like Rebecca Bennion, he had only played because his sibling did it first. Mike always picked numbers and abbreviations based on his brother’s. “He was 33, so I was 22… He had a coat that said ‘Fak,’ so I spelled mine ‘Faks.’” He said he appreciated coaching and watching his children get into sports different from his, giving him an opportunity to learn and support something new.
Lance Morey introduced Erin Kirby Watsabaugh, a volleyball champion who ranked first nationally in solo blocks her senior year. She also finished first in several track and field events, leading her team to a number of victories. She continued to be a successful athlete at the University of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah. Morey said, “Erin is a remarkable person and outstanding athlete, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of Erin’s experience.”
Kirby Watsabaugh thanked her coaches and teammates, as well as her family and the other inductees. “I’m grateful for the accomplishment, but I know there were people on the sidelines who helped me a lot.” She said that it is thrilling to provide her athletes with the opportunities she had.
Wheeler received a round of applause when he announced the posthumous induction of Ottley. The two met when Ottley invited Wheeler to box for him. Wheeler declined, but got to know Ottley nevertheless. “It was a real honor to call him my friend.” Ottley’s son Dave inducted his father. He recalled warm memories of Dennis’ contributions to the community and investments in the local youth. He said those who had known Dennis had known someone who cared. “When it came to Evanston, he was all-in.”
The final inductees were the members of 1997’s state champion high school football team. Kay Fackrell inducted them, expressing his gratitude for playing a role in their success. The players passed around the microphone, reminiscing and thanking everyone involved in their year of glory.
Coach Bubba O’Neill made closing remarks. “Tonight, we got to see many legends,” he said. “They were legends before they came up and spoke, before they got into the Hall of Fame, but now they last forever.”

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