Sports legend: Sims honored by Salisbury High

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 5, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Belinda Adams recalls a bad day in school that became a cherished memory because Bobby Sims rode to the rescue.

“Your life changes in middle school, and I was having the worst day ever,” Adams said. “School was pressing. Home life was weighing me down. I didn’t want to participate in anything and had withdrawn from everything. I was sitting on a bench when I saw Coach Sims coming. I tried hard not to make eye contact with him because he always made us laugh and this was a day I didn’t want to laugh.”

Sims sat down next to her. She was surprised when he called her by name. “Today won’t matter tomorrow,” he told her. “Get up and go play. No boy is worth your fun.”

This wasn’t about a boy. Sims understood that. But he made Belinda Adams smile even when she was determined not to. He could do that for people.

“I knew he wouldn’t stop until I got up,” Adams said. “Coach Sims knew what I needed and he knew exactly what to say. Later in life, I would use those same words — today won’t matter tomorrow — with my children when they were upset. And then I used them with my grandchildren. I am forever thankful to a caring coach and mentor for those words.”

Adams was one of thousands of students that Sims had a positive influence on during his years at Knox Junior High, which would become Knox Middle School in the 1980s.

As a coach, teacher and guidance counselor, Sims got to know just about everyone in the school. He taught youngsters who would be going to Salisbury High, but he lived in East Spencer and his children went to North Rowan, so he was an integral part of both communities.

Even away from the school, Sims seemed to be everywhere. He was a Jaycee, a volunteer fireman, an umpire for the ballgames at Royal Giants Park. He was the president of the North Rowan Boosters Club for a time. His wife, Joyce, taught and coached at North Rowan. His children, sons Miguel and Deric and daughter Bobbi, would all compete for the Cavaliers.

Fred Campbell, who became a star basketball player at Salisbury High, played Bog East basketball and earned a degree from Providence College, came through Knox when Sims was performing his daily miracles. Sims was a steady source of advice and hope for teens, a positive role model for Campbell and his friends.

Sims died young, 35 years ago, so Campbell was worried that the memory of Sims’ contributions to Rowan County sports, which spanned from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, might fade as the years passed.

Months ago, Campbell and Janine Evans began a determined push to have Sims’ name added to the ring of honor at Salisbury High, the coaching legends who have signs in their honor at Ludwig Stadium, Salisbury’s historic football field.

“You had coaches from Boyden, Price, Salisbury and Knox up there, some very good names and some very good coaches, but I  felt like Bobby Sims definitely needed to be up there,” Campbell said. “He was a stand-up guy and an outstanding coach. My class was the second class of freshmen to attend Salisbury High School. Before that, the ninth-graders went to Knox. Coach Sims had a huge impact on all of those students at that very important and transitional time in their lives. He looked after the kids and was well-liked by all.  He inspired us all to be the best that we could be. If Coach Sims got on you, you knew he was right and you were wrong and you needed to do better.”

That sign honoring Sims is a reality now. Recently, the Bobby Sims sign was unveiled and he was inducted into that elite fraternity of Salisbury coaching legends in front of a huge crowd at halftime of the North Rowan-Salisbury football game. Sims’ family, resplendent in matching red attire, came on the field at halftime and was recognized. They also were honored with a dinner prior to the game.

“Janine Evans and I thank Salisbury principal Marvin Moore and his staff and Dr. Windsor Eagle,” Campbell said. “This recognition couldn’t happen on that field without them being on board and without their full approval and support.”

Sims was born in 1942 in Durham County. He went to the Durham schools and graduated from North Carolina Central.

He came to Salisbury to work at J.C. Price when schools were still segregated, but integration was coming.

J.C. Price’s last graduating class received diplomas in the spring of 1969.

The 1969-70 school year brought full integration to Salisbury, and Sims began his work as a P.E. and health teacher, guidance counselor and coach at Knox Junior High.

“I had three previous years of teaching, but my first year at Knox was 1969,” Phyllis Little recalled. “Administration did the best that it could, but no one was prepared for what was to come. Bobby Sims and I shared, along with some others, a common planning period. The teachers’ lounge was a place for a bit of peace, a place for the teachers to recharge. Everyone was tense and touchy and always on edge. As we gathered for support, we shared our frustrations and our fears. If a teacher was having a problem with a student or a group of students, Bobby Sims would pull them aside and have a talk with them. He was never asked to do that, but he just did it. His presence reached all the way to the high school because as Knox went, so went Salisbury High. Other schools experienced riots, walkouts, fights and hostilities.We had our issues, but the city of Salisbury kept a lid on things, and we owe a lot of that peace to Bobby Sims. I had a great deal of respect for him then and I still do now. He never saw color but did what was right.”

Knox had strong athletic programs when Sims got there, His inspiration made the blue and gold even better.

He coached seventh and eighth grade football with Frank Saunders. Sims and Dale Basinger coached undefeated track teams. Sims usually served as the starter for meets directed by Bill Cansler. At the Rowan County Championships for the high schools, Sims usually would volunteer to handle the long jump and the triple jump, events that can take hours to complete.

Sims loved track and field and was the starter for many Junior Olympics meets.

White track and football were his main sports, he also had stints coaching basketball and baseball.

In 1972, Sims received a scholarship for graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

He completed work on a master of education degree in guidance counseling in 1975.

As a counselor, Sims was a father figure for many at Knox. He taught the value of integrity. He taught students they needed to stand for something.

Everyone thought Sims was cool, and he was, but he also had their respect and admiration.

He was hard, but he was fair and he prepared a lot of youngsters, black and white, to become responsible and committed high school students.

Sims was only 46 when he died in the summer of 1988.

The school year that followed was hampered by the measles epidemic.

A memorial service was held for Sims at Knox in January 1989, with the students seated in a darkened auditorium. They lit a candle for him, one by one, and said goodbye together to a man who had done his best to help make their road a little easier.

“Coach Sims stood for all that is good, and he saw that good in each of us,” said Knox student Walillian Kennedy, who would go on to graduate from Salisbury High and North Carolina Central.

Sims was one of those people who spent his life building bridges for those that came after him to walk across.

Now he’s taken his rightful place among the coaching legends.