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Thankful for our state's sports giants

By Frank Giardina

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On this week of Thanksgiving, it's time to give thanks for some West Virginians in the world of sports. 

  • On Nov. 14, the State Education Alliance did just that as it honored former high school basketball coach and administrator Lewis D'Antoni from Mullens High School. It was a who's who of education and coaching in our state. 
  • Many people were there to pay tribute to the D'Antoni and his family. His sons Mike and Danny now coach in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, youngest son Mark is a Charleston attorney and daughter Kathy is a longtime assistant state superintendent of schools. 

    The soon-to-be 99-year-old former coach remembered when his 1956 Mullens team, led by Willie Akers, lost to Jerry West and East Bank in the semifinals of the state basketball tournament.

    "I felt so bad for a long time after that game," recalled Lewis D'Antoni. "I just couldn't figure out a way to help Willie and those boys stop Jerry West. Then, when I watched him in college at WVU, I saw that no one there could stop him either. Then I watched him in the NBA with the Lakers and no one there could really stop him either. So, once I saw that, I didn't feel so bad." 

  • I'm thankful for our state's NBA stars such as West, Hal Greer, Rod Thorn, Ron "Fritz" Williams, Jason Williams, Bimbo Coles, O. J. Mayo, Patrick Patterson and others.
  • I'm thankful for some of our Olympic greats such as Mary Lou Retton, Vicky Bullett, Randy Barnes, James Jett and others.

    I'm thankful for Pro Football and College Football Hall of Famers such as Sam Huff, Frank "Gunner" Gatski, Mike Barber and Pittsburgh native Major Harris. I am thankful for a future Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss. I am also thankful for honorary West Virginians like Jeff Hostetler and Chad Pennington, who have given so much back to our state.

    And, as we approach high school basketball season, I am thankful for so many of the West Virginia basketball coaching legends such as Jerome Van Meter, Preach Wiseman, Jennings Boyd, Don Nuckols, Sam Andy, Tex Williams, Lou Romano, Donnie Smith, Akers and many others. They have all impacted so many lives in our state.

    For all of our problems in our state, and there are many, we rank pretty high in the quality of the athletic accomplishments of our people. 

  • Last week, the city of Elkins lost one its most beloved sports stars. A former multi-sports athlete at Elkins High School, Roy Simms passed away while coaching basketball at Davis & Elkins.
  • Elkins is a small city known more for its beauty than its athletic traditions. Oh, there was a trip to the AAA state basketball tournament in 1967 when only four teams made the big event, but there haven't many other trips deep into a state basketball tournament or a state football playoff over the years.    

    Simms was probably the best athlete of the "modern era" in Elkins High history and was an all-stater in football and basketball, and was also good in track and baseball. He had Division I offers in both football and basketball. After graduation from Elkins in 1979, he accepted a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Detroit. 

    A longtime friend of Simms, WVU Tech baseball coach Lawrence Nesselrodt, had this to say about Simms:

    "Roy was an incredibly natural athlete and was good at everything he did. Many people may not realize he earned nine letters in college at Detroit. He lettered in basketball, baseball and track while he was there. He also loved coaching and I take great comfort in knowing that Roy passed away doing something that he loved." 

    Simms initially heard from Detroit when Dick Vitale was the head coach of the Titans prior to his leaving to take the NBA job with the Pistons. 

    Reach Frank Giardina at flg16@hotmail.com.

     


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