Storied volleyball coach Wendy Simmons speaks about her legacy at Triton after officially retiring this week.
ERWIN — The blue-and-white banners hanging inside Triton’s gym illustrate a proud sports history.
Arguably no one is more responsible for the well-decorated walls than Wendy Simmons, a staple in Erwin that’s brought a winning culture to Hawks sports for nearly three decades.
Her retirement from high school coaching and teaching was effective as of Monday, thus sealing a remarkable 30-plus-year career during which she turned down multiple suggestions to test the collegiate ranks.
“I just felt like that (high school) was where I was supposed to be,” said Simmons, who most notably led volleyball and basketball teams and, recently, served as Triton’s athletic director.
The opportunity to help mold the next generation of leaders, both on and off the court, is what attracted Simmons to her first gig at Northwood High in 1987. She had a couple of other stops before landing as the assistant volleyball coach at Triton in 1995.
Simmons would spend the next 27 years establishing a family culture within her own program, using passion as a guide to success.
“I love the sport. I love watching the girls grow to love it as much as I do,” she said, noting how much of a pleasure it was to see her players improve, compete and build relationships.
“For my children, a lot of my players were their siblings as they grew up because helped me so much with them.”
The tight-knit groups allowed Triton to become one of the most feared volleyball programs during that time. Simmons boasts four North Carolina High School Athletic Association eastern regional final appearances, the last coming in 2016 to cap yet another 20-win season.
“We didn’t quite make it to the (state) championship, but we tried hard. That was definitely always a goal of mine,” she said.
“But we had other goals, too. We accomplished a lot over the years.”
Her teams collected well over 200 wins just in the past 15 seasons alone, including a host of regular-season and tournament conference championships.
Now, as she transitions into a phase that features new grandmother duties, Simmons takes pride in seeing former players lead their own programs.
Jalesty Washington led Gray’s Creek to its second 20-win season in three years, posting a dominating 25-1 record in 2021.
“It’s fantastic. You don’t really realize, I guess, when you’re in the moment, the impact you are having on them,” Simmons said.
“That I’ve instilled the love of the sport into them that they want to continue to give back as well, it makes you feel good.”
She added that she has the utmost confidence in her replacement, Sarah Haney, another former pupil who has recently served as an assistant on Simmons’ staff.
Though she won’t lead any more runs at Triton, Simmons feels that now is finally the right time to experience the next level – recently accepting an assistant coaching position at Methodist University.
“I’ve always wanted to try college, so now I get my chance,” she said.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.