Last Tuesday, the day before the final road trip
of her career as Emory women’s basketball coach, Myra Sims
sat down in her P.E. Center office to reflect on the job she’s
had since 1987, one she is leaving at the end of the year to move
over to the administrative side of the athletics department.
“Since I made the decision, it’s been a little bittersweet,”
said Sims, who, following a 64–52 win over the University
of Rochester (N.Y.) on Feb. 7, announced she was stepping down as
coach. “Moving to an administrative position is something
I have long wanted to do. When the opportunity came up, and once
I made the decision to accept the position, from that moment, I
had mixed emotions. I’m excited about the new position, but
I’ve been coaching for almost 20 years. There are a lot of
things that I am going to miss.”
Interacting with the players on a daily basis is perhaps at the
top of that list. “She always helps us prepare,” said
senior Allison Reopel, the Eagles’ lone senior and one of
two co-captains. “She not only helps us prepare as players
but for life off the court as well.”
“Assistant director of athletics for facilities” is
how Sims’ new business cards will read. As the title implies,
she will be in charge of the administration of Emory’s athletic
facilities, not only for varsity sports but for intramural and recreational
users as well. The different types of people she’ll run across
is one of the thing that attracted Sims to the job.
“In coaching you work with the other coaches, obviously, and
you work with students,” she said. “I’m looking
forward to working with different types of constituencies and working
with people my own age.”
Entering the final week of the 2002–03 season, Sims has compiled
a 204–169 record over her 15-year Emory career. She had led
the Eagles to two Div. III Sweet 16s (in 1995 and 1997) and was
named the outstanding female college coach in any sport by the Georgia
Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. From 1991 through 2000, the team did
not have a losing record.
Last Wednesday’s 61–59 loss to LaGrange College and
the final home game, against Case Western Reserve (Ohio) on Saturday,
were the latest phases in an athletic journey that goes back decades
and doesn’t lack challenges, both on the court and off.
Growing up in rural Hiltons, Va., in the far southwest corner of
the state, Sims had no opportunity to play organized sports, but
that doesn’t mean she couldn’t find her way onto the
field. Several days a week, she’d play pickup ball with the
boys: Football in fall, basketball in winter and spring, baseball
in the summer.
Several girls played, but young Myra was the only one who took it
seriously. Her parents and most of her friends thought she was wating
Sims’ only taste of organized sports was Little League scrimmages.
At the time, girls couldn’t play Little League ball during
the season, but preseason play was open. Sims’ best friend’s
dad was a Little League coach, and he let her play catcher.
“I’d wear all the gear, and nobody knew I was a girl
until I got up to bat,” she said. “Besides, at that
age, it’s hard to tell anyway.”
Sims graduated high school in 1976, just four years after the passage
of Title IX, which guaranteed equal opportunity for female athletes.
During Sims’ senior year in 1975–76, her high school
offered girls sports for the first time. She took advantage, playing
both volleyball and basketball.
“I used to have dreams about being able to play in a real
game, in any sport, with uniforms and officials,” Sims said.
“Even though we were terrible and not many people came out
to se us play, just being on the floor, in uniform, was the biggest
thrill of my life at the time.”
Fortunately for Sims, her playing career did not end with high school.
The University of North Carolina-Asheville was starting up its women’s
sports program, and Sims was the first woman recipient of an athletic
scholarship at the school, where she again played both basketball
After graduating in 1981, UNC-A hired her as assistant volleyball
coach. But before the season started, the head coach was fired.
Sims was promoted to head coach, finding herself suddenly in charge
of a bunch of players who only a few months before were her teammates.
In her second year at UNC-A, in tandem with her volleyball position,
Sims took a job as assistant women’s basketball coach. In
1984, that team provided her with one of her greatest sports experiences:
UNC-A won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
(NAIA) women’s basketball national championship, despite being
seeded last in tournament of 16.
“That was probably one of the biggest reasons I stayed in
coaching for 20 years,” Sims said. “When I got into
this, I didn’t anticipate I’d be coaching when I was
44. I thought it would be something I’d do for a while, then
go get a real job.”
And working as a women’s coach in the early 1980s in any sport
was hardly a lucrative endeavor. Her first year as volleyball coach,
Sims earned $4,600. Even while pulling double duty with the volleyball
and basketball teams, Sims essentially was working two part-time
jobs with no benefits and no insurance (“I remember being
really poor those years,” she joked.)
To make ends meet, she worked a variety of other jobs. She was a
lifeguard over the summer. She worked the night shift at a mental
hospital (her bachelor’s degree is in psychology). Even when
she moved to Emory in 1987 to start the Eagles’ volleyball
program, Sims worked for an Atlanta property management company
on the side.
Sims’ early Emory coaching career was remarkably similar to
her run at UNC-A. Shortly after being hired as Emory’s first
volleyball coach, Sims’ started the Eagles’ women’s
basketball program, and eventually stuck with that sport exclusively.
With no athletic scholarhips to offer and a tiny budget, Sims did
what she could.
There was no recruiting. There were no assistant coaches. The players
were basically the class of the intramural program. No one was over
5-foot-9 (contrast to this year’s team, which boasts 11 players
5-foot-9 or taller), and the Eagles got waxed most every time they
took the floor, finishing 5–16.
Things began to turn around in 1991, when Mandy Jackson, Nytasha
Thoms and Ashley Gordon joined the team. Jackson and Thoms rank
first and third in career scoring and Gordon was named University
Athletic Association Player of the Year in 1995, a year that ended
with Emory’s first Sweet 16 appearance. Their presence started
a run that saw Emory compile a 134-68 record over the next eight
Youth, however, has caught up to the Eagles. With just one senior
and three juniors this year, Emory finished with its third consecutive
losing season, wrapping up the schedule on Saturday against Case
“We haven’t been as consistent as I would’ve liked,”
Sims said. “But this is a very young team, and that happens.”
Interacting with the players will be one of the things Sims will
miss most. Not just in games and at practice, but on the road, where
airports and hotels can provide a lifetime of treasured stories.
“It’s nice to have a coach who’s pretty pleasant
on the road,” said junior post player Stephanie Seibert, also
a co-captain. “She likes to jam out to music on the radio.
She likes older, singer/songwriter stuff.”
Van karaoke aside, Sims said becoming an administrator is the right
move at the right time. “For me, coaching has gotten harder,”
Sims said. “The traveling, the recruiting. I just feel this
is a natural progression.”