Walt Simmons has plenty of stories to tell.
Whether it has been at Oak Hill Academy in West Point or at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Ala., Simmons has left his mark as a standout athlete. He also has learned more than his share of valuable lessons from peers who were more talented and more experienced.
Now working as a career coach at Gadsden State Community College, Simmons” job is to help high school and college students figure out what direction they want to take their lives and the best way to realize their goals.
Simmons” recent recognition as a member of the Gulf South Conference Spring All-Decade Team gives him another story to help his students relate to their challenges.
“Looking back on the career I had (at West Alabama), I feel very honored to even be thought of being on the All-Decade team,” Simmons said. “There are unbelievable names on that list, and I am deeply honored to be there.”
Joining Simmons on that list is former New Hope High standout Brandon Dill. The right-handed pitcher was one of five unanimous selections to the GSC East First Team, and was named Pitcher of Decade.
Dill garnered GSC First Team honors in 2008 while also logging South Central Region Pitcher of the Year accolades, while Simmons was a three-time, All-GSC First-Team selection.
“It”s pretty exciting being gone a couple of years from playing ball there,” Dill said. “One of the coaches sent me a message on Facebook and told me congratulations. I didn”t know what he was talking about.”
Dill suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow in May while in spring training for the Frontier League, an independent minor league. He played for the Gateway Grizzlies and the Evansville Otters in the Frontier League after he was released from the Colorado Rockies organization. He said the release was disappointing because he felt he pitched well in a long relief role in advanced rookie ball.
Dill hopes to have surgery to repair his elbow but is waiting to finalize the purchase of a new home in the area before he decides when to have the surgery.
“I feel like I am good enough to keep playing,” Dill said. “I am going to try to do that and see how it works out.”
Simmons, who works as an assistant baseball coach at a high school in Alabama, graduated from Oak Hill Academy in 1998. He said one of his proudest accomplishments is starting and playing in every game in four years at West Alabama. He said it was only natural that someone who played as much as he did was going to put up some impressive statistics.
Even though he had plenty of individual success, Simmons credits his teammates, particularly the upperclassmen who were leaders at West Alabama when he was a freshman. He said those players helped teach him how to play the game, to respect the game, how to mature, and how to handle himself on and off the field.
Those are lessons he continues to give back to the students, often times in the form of a story.
“When I interviewed for the job at Gadsden State, I told them a story about playing at West Alabama and playing in the minor leagues (with the Kalamazoo Kings in the Frontier League),” Simmons said. “I told them the players were a lot better than me and that I knew I wasn”t going to get out of the minors. They told me that”s what they wanted me to do, to tell my story. I feel like when I tell my story I have their attention when I walk in.”
The fact that Simmons has earned a place on the Gulf South Conference Spring All-Decade Teams should give him another attention-grabbing story that is bound to make an impression.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.