End of an era

Published 5:08 pm Friday, July 5, 2024

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AHOSKIE – Mementoes of the past cover the walls, shelves, and the desk of a small office near the main entrance of the Hertford County High School gym.

Just a short distance away, several large trophy cases line one wall of the gym’s lobby….each filled to brim with constant reminders of the success of the school’s various athletic programs since 1988.

And the man primarily responsible for those accolades is retiring.

After a career that spanned a combined 43 years at Ahoskie High School and HCHS, Charles Simmons is looking forward to a life without whistles and clipboards as a head basketball coach plus all the hectic duties associated with being an Athletic Director.

“It’s time for me to live at somewhat of a slower pace,” said Simmons last week, a couple of days prior to his official retirement effective June 30.

He arrived in Ahoskie in September 1981 as head boys basketball coach, the first year doing both varsity and junior varsity. Prior to that, Simmons – a native of Forest City in the western part of the state – obtained an AA degree in Health & Physical Education from Louisburg College (1975) and his BS in Health and Physical Education from UNC Pembroke in 1977. He briefly coached at the junior high school level and then took graduate level courses at Appalachian State University during the Bobby Cremins era at that school.

Simmons said he never imagined he would be in Ahoskie for nearly 45 years and win 736 basketball games.

“I had a friend in college who was from Northampton County,” Simmons recalled. “When I told him I was considering taking the job at Ahoskie High School, he quickly reminded me they were a football school, but they have athletes and I had a good chance of building a basketball program there. His advice was one of the reasons I took the job.”

Still a young man at that time, Simmons said he planned to stay 10 years and perhaps look to coach at the collegiate level.

“I promised myself if I didn’t make that move by age 40, then I’ll stay right where I’m at,” Simmons said.

“One thing that helped with that decision was with Richard’s [Murray] retirement,” Simmons continued, talking about the longtime former Athletic Director at Ahoskie High and Hertford County High. “He put everything in place for me to take over as AD.”

Simmons said Murray was a great mentor and role model.

“He was the most organized person I’ve ever been around,” Simmons recalled. “Richard had it set up where I couldn’t fail, even if I tried.”

At basically the same time, Carol Swain came onboard as the HCHS Sports Information Director.

“She’s been right here with me the whole time,” Simmons noted. “Carol handles most of the paperwork and that allows me to work with the coaches and scheduling.”

Swain also retired effective June 30.

“Hertford County has been very good for me,” Simmons said. “Everyone across the state – the NCHSAA, the Coaches Association – knows about Hertford County and the success of our athletic programs. That has helped me develop relationships with my coaching and AD peers from the mountains to the coast.”

Simmons has been actively involved at the state level. He has served on the NC Athletic Directors Board of Directors (1995-99), the NC Coaches Association Board of Directors (2003-07), and as the President of NC Coaches Association in 2009. He was named as the State AD of the Year in 2013 and also coached in the East-West All-Star Basketball Game.

Simmons was inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame in 2022.

While he was a state champion athlete in basketball at East Rutherford High School (and the MVP of the state finals in 1972), Simmons never reached that mountaintop as a coach.

“I guess that’s the only regret I have, not bringing a state championship to Hertford County,” he said. “But we have enjoyed a lot of success here. We’ve won conference championships, tournament championships, and sectional championships.”

Simmons said the level of talent at Ahoskie and HCHS was high, but yet team chemistry was the key to blending that talent. He also noted how the game has changed…from a deliberate half-court style to up tempo and much more physicality.

“My style of discipline remained the same throughout; the change came in style of play and working hard with the players on developing and building repetitive skills,” he said.

Over the course of his career, Simmons said he enjoyed matching wits with other successful coaches. He mentioned the likes of Mike Gainey (Rocky Mount High School). Chris Cherry (South Central High School), Chad Williams (First Flight High School), and Antonio Moore (Elizabeth City Northeastern).

“Their teams always play hard and play with discipline; I respect that 100 percent,” he remarked. “Discipline is a major factor in any sport you play or coach, especially in critical situations and late in a game.”

He also offered praise for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, calling it “among the best groups in the nation.” Simmons has served on the Board of Directors for that organization.

As an Athletic Director, Simmons enjoys watching the student-athletes involved in other sports improve their skills. He also stresses the importance of good sportsmanship and keeps a keen eye on the athletes to make sure they’re keeping up their grades to remain eligible to participate.

Additionally, Simmons must ensure that all coaches are certified in CPR and meet mandated certifications for heat-related illnesses, heart attack / stroke, and other medical mandates, to include concussion protocol.

“If doesn’t matter if they are paid or volunteers coaches, I have to make sure they are certified in those areas,” Simmons said. “They have to take those courses every year. If you don’t take the course, you don’t coach.

“And we still require our student-athletes to take and pass a physical exam every year. We have to stay on top of that,” he added.

Chris Towell, the longtime HCHS baseball coach, will succeed Simmons as Athletic Director.

“Chris has been with us for a long time….he knows and understands our operations,” Simmons said. “He is very organized and far more savvy on a computer than I am. He is well equipped to handle this job.”

Troy Garris, a current assistant on Simmons’s coaching staff, will be promoted to head boys basketball coach at HCHS. Garris will maintain his newly assigned duties as the Athletic Director at Hertford County Middle School.

“Troy has been one of my basketball assistant coaches for at least four years,” Simmons noted. “He knows the kids and is great at skill development. He’ll do a good job and will have a good nucleus of returning assistant coaches.”

As he reflects on his career that has seen him now coach the sons of some of his former players, Simmons said he delights in the fact that many of his student-athletes have remained in touch.

“I have some who call me every week; others will call on Father’s Day or on my birthday,” he said. “That makes me believe that I had some sort of impact on their lives.”

Even after 43 years of long days and nights as a coach and athletic director, don’t expect Simmons to slow down. He was elected last year to the Ahoskie Town Council and also serves as Chair of the Hertford County ABC Board and is on the board of the Ahoskie Housing Authority.

“My college roommate, who retired as a school superintendent in the Burlington area, owns a consulting business and has asked me to consider doing some work with him,” Simmons said.

Whatever path he chooses, expect Charles Simmons to succeed. And he doesn’t need another trophy to prove that fact.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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