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Simmons successful in Knox


Though breaking racial barriers to make athletic history twice with his hometown junior college basketball team in the mid-1960s, sharpshooting guard Dwayne Simmons discovered an even deeper level of racism than he knew existed.

But upon leaving his hometown in West Tennessee and arriving at Knoxville College in the fall of 1966, Simmons not only found support on the court, but in the classroom and in the pocketbook with tuition. And someone outside of his hometown, Pulaski, finally did something besides deny him access because of the color of his skin.

“The first year at the junior college I didn’t play simply because they didn’t want me to travel with them,” said Simmons, assistant principal at Farragut High School, about his first taste of hard-core racism as a junior college African-American basketball player in Pulaski before becoming a three-time most valuable player at Knoxville College and Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame inductee in 2002. “I was the first black to play at that school and in that conference. It got that where schools would call and say they shouldn’t bring me with them.”

Despite his opportunity during the 1965-66 school year, “I had to eat a lot alone,” Simmons said. “In that day and time, if you couldn’t find a big chain like Holiday Inn or a Shoney’s … then I would always have to eat on the bus by myself.

“And then the (road travel) sleeping arrangements, I couldn’t always stay with the team, they would always try to find a family for me in that town to sleep … ,” the 58-year-old educator added. “Some of those places, really, (were) bad housing situations.”

Known as an excellent outside shooter who led his junior college team in rebounding while winning several awards during the 1965-66 season, “I ended up being the first black to play in the civic center in Birmingham, Alabama (now named Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center),” Simmons said.

Though quite aware that racism and segregation ran rampant in the 1960s, Simmons said he was somewhat surprised by his junior college racial troubles. “To some extent it did (surprise me) because I had never really traveled before,” Simmons said. “In a way it was surprising as to how people could treat just a young teenager.”

But strong support helped keep Simmons going. “See, I came from a strong family,” Simmons said. “My mom (Mary) didn’t want me to play after that first (junior college) year, but my dad (Thomas) was the one who said, ‘someone needs to do it, someone needs to start it.’” And he said, ‘I want you to go ahead and give it a try.’ And he said, ‘the Lord’ll look out for you.’”

Despite facing racism and segregation head-on, “I’m not bitter about it,” Simmons said. “It taught me a lot. I can look back and draw strength from that. That’s the time in life where you could really label people. And I learned to judge each individual individually and not judge a class of people as being the same … .”

Upon arriving at Knoxville College in 1966, “… They took a lot of time, they cared about you, they let you know that they cared about you,” Simmons said, adding that his KC experience helped lead him into the education field. “My role models were teachers and coaches. They just made an impression on me, and I just wanted to do the same kind of things when I had the opportunity.”

Becoming the first KC basketball player to ever earn a full scholarship, Simmons earned an education degree from KC in 1969. Teaching high school biology in Toledo, Ohio, for three years – where he also made money playing semi-pro basketball — Simmons returned to Knoxville College where he served as head coach for four seasons. His 1977-78 KC Bulldogs made it to the final eight in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

After eight years in computer sales, Simmons joined the Knox County Schools system as a teacher and coach at Vine Middle School for one school year, 1988-89. In his second year at FHS after seven years as principal at Northwest Middle School, Simmons said Farragut is quite different than the inner city environments he’s used to dealing with. However, “I thoroughly enjoy it here, it’s an excellent community, excellent school,” Simmons said.

Michael Reynolds, FHS principal said, “He’s doing a really nice job not only with the students, but he’s even helping out with the (FHS varsity boys) basketball team, and getting to see the kids in a different light, too.”

 

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