Her former players surrounded her, filling the air with their best stories and imitations, each eliciting more and more laughter.
Michelle Simmons could only drop her head and smile.
These things happen at the end of a coaching career that is in its fifth decade, the last 29 years at G.W. Carver.
It could hit Thursday when the Wolverines face Jeff Davis in the Class 6A, Area 6 semifinals at Robert E. Lee. It will hit at some point over the next month, though Carver hopes it comes with a state championship celebration.
“I don’t even want to think that far ahead,” Simmons said. “I always tell my kids it’s not over until it’s over, and that’s how I’m going to approach this.
“We’re looking for big things to happen.”
It started in 1972 when Simmons, fresh out of Alabama State, where she played volleyball, basketball and ran track and field.
Simmons spent one year coaching at then-Loveless Junior High before going to Floyd. In 1985, she took over Carver’s program — her first-year players thought she’d be a pushover — and helped turn it into a state power.
“I remember I was really excited because it was my first high school coaching job,” Simmons said. “We were all ready to play, and we had a good season.
“We seemed to get better each year.”
The Wolverines have one state championship (1993) and three runner-up finishes. They’ve made 12 state semifinal appearances and reached the quarterfinals 17 times.
Simmons has produced 12 All-State players, had one (Merlakia Jones) reach the WNBA and has had countless others who lovingly remember Simmons.
“Every coach dreams of getting their team ready for the regionals and Final Four,” Simmons said. “It’s not a surprise, but it’s more a disappointment that we haven’t gone more.”
She said Jones was the player she was most proud of, Yalika “Boo” Barnes was the best player and Debriena Gardner was the one who made the most out of the least talent.
“There were so many,” Simmons said when asked her favorite. “All of them were my favorite.”
Simmons, who began teaching at Floyd in 1976, retired from everything but coaching last fall. She joked that this year has been “very relaxing” because all she has to do is coach.
“I see why college coaches have so much fun,” she said.
But Simmons says she hasn’t considered what might happen when it ends. How emotional will she be walking off the court for the final time? What memories will she think of first? Who gets the first hug?
“All I’ve known over the last 42 years is working with kids,” Simmons said. “I’ve been blessed, from the people who encouraged me to go into the field to the people I’ve met.
“I feel blessed. I can honestly say I’ve been blessed.”