College Sports

Heights' Mary Sims is back in good graces

Mary Sims didn't know it at the time, but the then-Heights sophomore was self-destructing. She lied to everyone, manipulated everyone.

As she spiraled out of control, her mother, Berneice Dixon, and girls basketball coach Kip Pulliam made the drastic decision to remove her from the team.

"You can't see the future, but you hope you're doing the right thing and hope it all works out," Pulliam said.

It worked out.

Sims, Heights' starting point guard, has helped lead the Falcons back to the Class 6A tournament. She also recently made an oral commitment to play at Central Arkansas.

But getting to this point meant Sims had to face facts — she was making the wrong decisions.

That realization didn't hit immediately.

"Waking up the next day and going home and not going to practice, going to the game and not being able to play, it was, 'This is serious, this is for real,' " Sims said. "I was still making excuses for another month or two, acting like I didn't care. It wasn't my fault, it was their fault.

"And then accountability struck and respectability struck and then I became best at the things that made me a better person."

Sims had been caught up in the hype of being a star basketball player, caught up in the publicity. She thought because of what kind of player she was, she could do whatever she wanted.

So she missed curfew, she lied about her whereabouts, she hung with kids she shouldn't have.

While never arrested, she had to go in front of a judge, who told her to get her act together.

It took her more than a year, but she did just that, stripping herself down, revealing to herself who she was beyond basketball.

"I turned off my phone, got off Facebook, I was alone," Sims said. "I called it a journey."

She had to repair relationships — with her mother and stepfather, her coaches, her teammates. She didn't apologize because she had already done that too many times, and each time it was a lie.

She returned to basketball her junior season. She wasn't a starter, wasn't a star. She had gained some weight and didn't have the same quickness. She was nervous, trying to make all the right decisions, but she worked to help the team in whatever way it needed.

"My walk was different and my talk was different," Sims said."... I wasn't trying to prove anything to nobody. I proved it to myself."

College coaches started talking to her again, but they were wondering where she had been.

It was a process, but she stuck to it.

Her mother calls it miraculous. Sims knows she's right.

Friends and family trust her again. Her friends ask her for advice. She's going to Central Arkansas. It's not a top-tier college, but it's Division I and they like her. As a person.

"Sometimes as a parent I kick myself," Dixon said. "She was at the very top of her class as far as basketball goes.... Maybe I shouldn't have (taken basketball away).

"But when I look at Mary today, the course of action we took as parents was the right choice. It was absolutely the right choice."

Sims is completely different than she was as a fresh-faced freshman with her in-your-face confidence and talent.

"Being a freshman on varsity, I was so cocky and bigheaded," she said. "I just wanted to score, score, score, score, score, score.... I knew I could probably not practice for two weeks and do things better than anyone else could. It came easy for me."

She can still score — she had 26 points in a win over Webb City, Mo. —but her role is different.

Her knowledge of the game increased and she began to focus on making her teammates better.

"She has a knack about her," Pulliam said. "She can get people open by penetration to certain spots. She sees the floor really well and she'll keep an eye on someone who is hot to get them the ball. Or if someone is struggling, she'll get them in position to score and help them get hot. It's fun to watch.

"She has God-given talent, and she's making the best of it now."

Now.

She's been humbled, she's been down. But she moved forward. Call her the new-and-improved Mary Sims.

"It was hurtful. It was embarrassing," she said. "It sucked for me. The person I am now, I'm so happy for what I went through and had a life-learning lesson and will never make that same mistake twice."

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