March 3, 2003

Hoop Dreams

By Eric Rangus

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 her time.

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 and volleyball.

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 seasons.

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 Western.

“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.”






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