Most in the community know him as a coach, mentor and advocate for children. Now, Elkins native Roy Simms finds himself in an unusual position: Rather than being the one calling plays in this game we call life, he is on the sidelines. Simms has put his fate in the ultimate coach - God.
Simms, the former head coach of the Elkins High School boys' basketball team and current assistant coach of the Davis & Elkins College men's basketball squad, is facing an admittedly tough road ahead. He is in need of lifesaving surgeries for a heart and kidney transplant - an operation that will cost nearly $1.2 million. Of that, Simms must cover 20 percent, or around $240,000, to pay for the procedure.
"I don't believe God would give me this cross to bear if He didn't believe I have the wherewithal to bear it," Simms said, his usually strong, boisterous voice now slowed through labored breathing. "God always has played a major role in my life and the decisions I've made by guiding me to the right place. Letting Him lead is what faith's all about."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
A benefit dinner and auction are scheduled for local coach Roy Simms, seen here with his wife, Mary Diann. West Virginia University men’s basketball head coach Bob Huggins will be on hand for the event, which is slated for Oct. 10. The benefit is designed to raise funds needed for Simms’ heart and kidney transplant.
Those who know Simms recognize the core values he holds dear.
They are faith, family, service and sports. Upon his return to this region in 2006 from Denver, the coach created the Give Back Foundation to help fund scholarships and sports opportunities for young athletes. Over the years, hundreds of children have been assisted through his efforts.
Now, the community Simms has dedicated so much of his time to help is rallying to come to his aid. The Roy Simms Health Heart Fundraiser Event is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at Orchard Hall in Elkins. The special guest and keynote speaker for the dinner will be Bob Huggins, West Virginia University's head men's basketball coach. Other members of the WVU basketball staff and some fellow Mountaineers, who may include Major Harris and Da'Sean Butler, will join Huggins, Simms said.
"It's going to be a Mountaineer night," Simms said Monday.
The coach is newly released from the transplant unit at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. After a multiple-week stay - his second since July - one of Simms' first stops upon coming home was Wimer Field Friday night to cheer on the Elkins High School football team at its homecoming game against Bridgeport. Like he's done so many times before, Simms was there to support the Tigers, and Friday he was joined by his wife, Mary Diann Simms, who these days never is far from his side.
However, it has been Simms himself who so many in the community and beyond have relied upon to be there to lend a helping hand. This gesture of altruism extended to Huggins and his family in November 2010. That's when Simms worked to help raise funds in memory of Huggins' mother, Norma Mae, who passed away from colon cancer in May 2003. Simms worked locally to support the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fund at WVU's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.
He said he feels blessed Huggins now wants to be there for him during his time of need. The respect is mutual between the two coaches.
"Roy's a wonderful guy, has just done great things for kids, cares about the Elkins community and the state of West Virginia. He's a great Mountaineer," Huggins said of Simms during a recent on-air interview with WDNE radio, which is among the community partners helping with the benefit. "(The fundraiser) is the right thing to do. ... Roy's meant so much to so many people, and it's just a small part of what we all really ought to try to be doing for him."
The Inter-Mountain is helping to support the upcoming charity banquet as well, as is Peter Pan Cleaners, Elkins Fordland and Innovative Investments. Event tickets, which are $50 each, will be available at all these businesses later this week. Checks may be made payable to Shiloh Baptist Church for the tax-deductible donation, with the note "Simms' health fund" in the memo line.
The task of raising nearly a quarter of a million dollars may seem insurmountable, but Huggins said he believes it will be possible. Simms has at least another year before he can be put on the transplant waiting list because of his October 2011 battle with prostate cancer. He said he has to go two years without a cancer treatment in order to be eligible.
Kevin Wilson, executive vice president of D&E, said Simms is "the toughest guy I know." He noted Simms had been working in the college's admissions office in addition to his coaching duties and called the coach an ambassador for the school.
"He's a huge connection between the community and the college, a link that brings it all together," Wilson said, recalling the Harlem Legends event Simms brought to D&E earlier this year.
"That was all him, and it shows what he can do in the community to pull off something like that, which was such a huge success," Wilson said.
He said Simms has a sense of determination that will suit him for this journey to recovery on which he must now embark.
Simms said his health woes began in 2006, when he first was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His kidneys were impacted at the same time, he said.
"I caught a virus that attacks the heart. Everyone gets it, but my immune system couldn't fight it off," Simms said, noting his condition continued to slowly deteriorate.
Until he's eligible for the transplant list and finds a match, Simms said his health is being managed through a rigorous medication schedule designed to fix one problem.
Then another crops up, and it must be addressed, he said.
He will attack this with the same intensity he used to letter in 12 sports while a standout athlete at Elkins High School in the 1970s. Simms also earned nine Division I letters at that time.
The son of Robert and Mildred Simms, Roy is one of eight children. He started playing sports at age 6, shooting hoops at the Elkins YMCA. He said he is proud of his rich West Virginia heritage and the fact he went to college on a full athletic scholarship through the University of Detroit, where he played from 1979 until 1983. It provided him with the opportunity to represent the Mountain State on a national platform.
At the university, Simms was co-captain of both the men's basketball and baseball teams, having played point guard and center field respectively. He also ran track, participating in hurdles during his fifth year at college.
Simms graduated with a degree in education and a mission to work with children. He said he wanted to motivate young athletes in the same positive manner in which some of his early childhood coaches had inspired him.
Simms recognized local residents Mike Ross, Max Armentrout and Ralph Hess as having helped to shape him into the athlete and coach he has become.
Simms remains close with Ross, who will introduce Huggins at the upcoming fundraiser. Ross said Simms is an "inspiration for all."
"Roy is an asset to Randolph County and West Virginia," Ross said, noting he goes above and beyond when working with student athletes.
"He calls them by name and pays a lot of attention to them. Kids like that. They like to be recognized, and Roy gave them that honor," Ross said.
Many in the community are counting on generations of families returning the gesture and honoring Simms by attending the Oct. 10 dinner. In addition to the meal itself, an auction will take place in conjunction with the event. Donations are being collected and can be dropped off at any ticket sales location.
"I'm humbled by all this," Simms said.
Contact Heather Goodwin Henline by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.