Walker: New Orleans youth coaching icon Firmin Simms lived to be 91, but his legacy will surely live forever – NOLA.com

Posted: May 17, 2020 at 10:46 pm

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It's been 40 years since Will Clark last played a baseball game for Firmin Simms.

Yet Clark still made it a point to always make a phone call and reach out to Simms at least once a year.

That's the type of impact Simms had on every single life he touched.

"He was just such a big influence growing up," Clark said. "Not just baseball, but off the field-wise too."

Simms, one of the most influential men in New Orleans youth sports, died of natural causes on May 9.

He lived 91 years.

His legacy is sure to live on even longer because of how much he meant to the life of not only Clark, but everyone he ever coached.

That list reads like a Who's Who of athletes from New Orleans, stretching from the baseball diamond to the basketball court to the football field.

Former major leaguers like Clark and Rusty Staub, basketball stars like Sean Tuohy, Kerry Kittles and D.J. Augustine, and ex-NFL running back Leroy Hoard played for Simms at some point.

"The list just goes on and on," said David Moreau, one of Simms' former players who is the athletic director at Jesuit High School. "And it's in so many walks of life. Priests. Teachers. Principals. Doctors. Lawyers. And so many of those people did so many things for so many other people. So he's a legacy coach. The things he taught you were so far beyond the ball fields and courts. They were things that you go on to teach your children and grandchildren."

Simms was inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1986 and is also in the Babe Ruth Baseball Hall of Fame. His inclusion into both were surely no-brainers.

Simms' teams made it to the Babe Ruth World Series 16 times. They won it all five times.

He also won 10 national championships for Biddy Basketball and one world title. Simms went on to become the national director for Biddy Basketball for more than two decades.

A coaching career that began as a teenager at St. Cecilia and Bunny Friend Playground in the Ninth Ward eventually took him all over the world and into the lives of so many.

"There is no doubt in my mind that had I not played ball for Firmin Simms, that the good things that happened in my life in athletics would not have occurred," Moreau said. "I think all of us felt that way."

How did Simms find the time to do all that he did, going from one sport to another for 365 days of the year while also working a full-time job?

"I have no idea, to tell you the truth," Moreau said. "Any of us who ever played for him are grateful to his family for the sacrifices they made so he could make the sacrifices he made to have an impact on the lives of all of us who played for him."

Simms made those he coached better baseball and basketball and football players.

But more importantly, he made them better people.

His faith was important to him. Taking his players to Mass after a game or practice was common. So were prayer services in hotels on road trips.

"All of his teams knew God was first, teammates came second and 'I' was last," said Jerry Simms, his son.

George Hebbler, an attorney, still attends Mass every day because of Simms.

"He brought God onto the playing field for us," Hebbler said. "He made great men out of boys. He was just a prince of a guy who really deserves more accolades than he received. But I don't think he ever cared about accolades. If we had more men like him in this world, what a great place it would be."

A funeral Mass for Simms will be held Friday at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Metairie. Visitation for the general public will be held at the church from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Until then, those who knew Simms will continue to share stories about their former coach. They'll talk about the games and the road trips. They'll mention the lessons. They'll bring up "De Colores," a song that Simms often taught his players. The song, popular in Spanish culture, is also often used in the Catholic church. It's a song about things like loving all colors and God's grace and bringing souls to Christ.

"That's what he really believed in, and that was his cause," Clark said.

In fact, some often just refer to Simms as "De Colores." And others, like Clark, simply just called him "Coach."

But as David Moreau's brother Doug will tell you, Simms wasn't just a coach.

"He was about developing good people and faithful people," Doug Moreau said. "It was about what they became as men. And to him that was bigger than any wins or championships."

Relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral Mass at 2 p.m. on May 22 at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 105 Bonnabel Blvd, Metairie, with a private burial to follow. The funeral Mass will be live-streamed from the church for those who are unable to attend. Live streaming can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WC8eu4myc3g. A visitation for the general public will be held at the church from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Walker: New Orleans youth coaching icon Firmin Simms lived to be 91, but his legacy will surely live forever - NOLA.com

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May 17th, 2020 at 10:46 pm

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