Close friends of Roy Simms said the local sports legend's death this weekend leaves a gap in the community that will be difficult to fill. Simms passed away on Saturday while doing what he loved - coaching and mentoring youth.
Simms, 52, an assistant basketball coach at Davis & Elkins College, collapsed during a D&E practice Saturday afternoon and was taken to Davis Memorial Hospital, according to Carol Schuler, associate vice president for communications and marketing at D&E.
"The Davis & Elkins College community is deeply saddened by our loss. Our hearts are with his family," Schuler said in a prepared statement.
An outstanding high school and college athlete who starred in basketball and football, Simms touched many lives, both on the field of play and as a mentor. Friends said Simms worked hard to give back to the community that helped him become successful.
"He was very proud that he could come home and coach," Steve Wamsley, principal of Tygarts Valley High School and a close friend, said Sunday. "Roy has always had a big heart and enjoyed helping people less fortunate than him."
Wamsley said he first met Simms when the two squared off against each other in Little League baseball.
"We have been really close since then," Wamsley said, adding that Simms was thrilled to return to Elkins in 2006, and was very honored to become the head basketball coach at his alma mater, Elkins High School.
"He was very proud that he could home and coach," he said. "He loved helping youth with basketball camps and exposing them to things they would never have experienced."
Simms and his Give Back Foundation made it possible for many youth to be able to attend basketball camps and meet great players of the sport. Simms was instrumental in bringing several West Virginia University basketball players and coaches to the area to meet with local players.
In April, Simms brought two of WVU's top scorers, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, to Elkins for the EHS sports banquet.
Simms also coordinated bringing the Harlem Legends basketball squad to D&E's campus for a charity game in April.
Earlier this year, Simms stepped into the college arena, taking the assistant coaching position at D&E.
"He died doing what he loved," Wamsley said. "He was proud he became a college basketball coach. He loved seeing others succeed."
Wamsley said he spoke to Simms Saturday morning and that the coach was in a good mood even though he was battling health issues. Simms was in need of both a kidney and heart transplant.
"He was in good spirits," Wamsley said. "On Nov. 30 he was going to be put on the transplant list. He thought he was turning the corner."
In October, WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins, his coaching staff and hundreds of area residents attended the Health Heart Fundraiser in Elkins, a benefit designed to help pay medical costs for Simms.
Voras Haynes Jr. of Elkins was a close friend of Simms for 40 years, after the two met in the fifth grade.
"Roy was probably one of the best athletes Elkins has ever produced," Haynes said.
"He came back and his idea was to give back to the community that gave him so much."
Haynes said many local residents had fond memories of Simms' celebrated high school athletic career, during which he earned 12 letters and a full scholarship to the University of Detroit. While in college, Simms amassed nine Division I letters in various sports.
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 hurdles for the track team.
"When he came back it was his goal to help the youth and that is why he started the Give Back Foundation," Haynes said. "Roy could spend entire days at Bluegrass Park watching baseball. He cared about those kids."
Haynes said the foundation allowed Simms to provide scholarships to athletes.
"Roy was constantly communicating with his players," Haynes said. "He would even send motivational texts to his players. He cared about everyone. The kids knew it and they gravitated to him."
Haynes said that even though Simms was battling medical problems, the coach remained in good spirits and wanted the best for his community.
"Roy had the biggest heart of anyone I've ever been around," Haynes said. "He was just a great guy to be around. He will truly be missed."
D&E's head men's basketball coach, Bruce Martin, described Simms as "a great man" who loved the sport and working with kids.
"He cherished and loved the relationships he was building with our team," Martin said. "It gave him a greater purpose and made him happy.
"Every summer he hosted a free camp and clinic," Martin said. "He had WVU players and coaches come and speak to the kids. He did it because he liked helping others."
Martin said it was a very emotional time for himself and his team.
"Our thoughts go out to his family and his wife," Martin said. "We pray to give them strength."
Martin said Simms would also go out of his way to help the players on the D&E team without being asked to do so.
"We just had our first game last Tuesday and several members of our team had upset stomachs and said they couldn't eat that close to a game," Martin said. "The next day Coach Simms showed up with a calendar so they could eat meals farther from game time. He took it on himself to make sure they could eat well before the games. He heard it and acted on it. He was always helping kids."