After wearing green and gold since 1985, G.W. Carver girls basketball coach and athletic director Michelle Simmons has decided to hang up her whistle.
Simmons took over as athletic director in 1998, becoming the first female athletic director in Alabama. The long-time Wolverine will retire Sept. 30, but remain on as coach throughout the remainder of the season.
When Simmons came to the Carver campus almost three decades ago, she didn’t realize she had gotten the last job of her 41-year career.
“I went down to the interview and I was scared to death. And there was a principal by the name of Dwight Madison, and he made me feel so comfortable,” Simmons said. “And I said in two years, once I get a chance to know those kids I’ll get them to buy in to my program. And we just went from there. I had no idea that’d I’d be here. I guess it was just a blessing.”
Carver principal Gary Hall named volleyball coach Virginia Franklin as the athletic director to follow Simmons’ footsteps. However, finding a replacement basketball coach is not a task he wants to tackle just yet.
Hall said he and a panel, including Simmons, will decide who takes over as basketball coach after the season.
“Replacing coach is going to be something that is something I don’t look forward to this year, because who do you get to replace her?” Hall said. “You can’t talk about the number of young ladies’ lives she’s made a difference in.”
Simmons almost didn’t return to coach this year. After the death of her mother in January, she was tempted to leave the Wolverines after last year and spend time with her family.
“Seeing her like that, it was hard because we could tell she wasn’t the same,” Carver senior Jazmyne Brown said. “She always looked sad. She wasn’t saying much. But we said, ‘Coach, we need you. Don’t leave us now.’ We could tell it was hard for her to stay, but we told her we’d be there for her.”
After a heartbreaking two-point loss in the state semifinals to eventual state champion Hoover, it was Simmons’ seniors, all seven of them, that convinced her to stay.
“I actually didn’t know if I was going to coach this year,” Simmons said. “I have seven seniors, and they were in my ear, ‘Coach, just one more year.’ They were there for me in a really tough time in my life. I lost my mother in January, and really thought my world had come to an end.
“It was during regionals and state tournament, and they helped me keep it together. That’s what changed my mind, because I felt committed to them.”
After coming so close last year, and with one more year to add to Simmons’ storied legacy at Carver, the Wolverines hope to make it a storybook ending.
“We just let her know that we were there for and we were doing this for her, and we weren’t ready for her to leave yet,” senior Keyuana Thompson said. “So, we’re glad she’s sticking around another year for us, to see us go all the way this year.”
But Simmons doesn’t measure her legacy in wins and losses or taking a school that was struggling in all sports to a state power. The way she wants to be remembered is simple.
“That she gave her all,” Simmons said. “She just gave her all.”