LUMBERTON — The legacy of longtime Lumberton football manager Kenny Simmons will live on after he finally coaches his last game, for as long as the Pirates play the game.
From now on, his name will live on in perpetuity on the very ground where these games take place.
The Kenneth W. Simmons football facility was dedicated in a ceremony Tuesday at Lumberton High School, a decade after the field was built under Simmons’ direction.
“I am very honored and grateful to the Robeson County Public Schools for this recognition,” Simmons said at the ceremony. “From hearing in November, when the nomination process began, to its approval in December, I felt a wide range of emotions – from shock and disbelief, to a sense of accomplishment and success.”
About 200 people were in attendance for the ceremony, including dozens of former players, as well as parents, former colleagues, school administrators and Simmons’ family.
“Kenny, look at that crowd that showed up to support you tonight in the pouring rain,” Jerome Hunt, Robeson County Public Schools athletic director, said at the ceremony. “It’s just a testament to the type of person you are and what everyone thinks of you. … For me, it’s the ultimate honor to have a facility named in your honor – especially to be named in your honor while you are still able to enjoy and view it.
“It’s kind of like a reunion,” Simmons told The Robesonian after the ceremony. “I saw players, parents and former colleagues that I hadn’t seen in years. It was just very emotional, and it was a great night.
Simmons said he dreamed of being in Lumberton, his alma mater, when he started coaching. He has now been the Pirates Boys’ Football Coach for 28 seasons and continues to play that role, and coached the women’s team for 27 years before retiring after the 2021 season. Simmons is 325-227- 52 as a boys coach and 281-209-31 as a girls coach at Lumberton, totaling 1,125 games. Lumberton’s programs combined for 12 conference championships in Simmons’ career and he was named Conference Coach of the Year 11 times and Regional Coach of the Year six times; he was also selected to coach in the East-West All-Star Game in 2009. Simmons also had a successful stint coaching football, basketball and tennis at the former Avalon Academy in Dillon.
“It helps, it’s great, it’s great stats – but it’s about being an exceptional role model, coaching and teaching the right way throughout a 28-year career, and to use football to touch the lives of children, and not just at Lumberton High School but throughout Robeson County,” Hunt said.
“Over the years, my teams here at Lumberton High School have achieved great success on the field; it’s been fun and rewarding,” Simmons said. “But I’m most proud of the culture and tradition that our players and our football community have created.”
Simmons also taught physical education at Carroll Middle School in Lumberton from 1994 to 2021. Simmons also founded the Lumber River Soccer Association, a youth program that served as a feeding program for high school teams, and he was heavily involved in the creation of the Robeson Cup tournament for local high school boys’ and girls’ teams and Robeson County college football, which kicked off this spring.
“Football in the Lumberton area and the Kenny Simmons name go hand in hand; you can’t mention one without mentioning the other,” Lumberton manager Larry Brooks said. “Through football, Coach Simmons positively influenced many men and women, not just at Lumberton High School, but across the county through one game.”
“There’s not a kid in this county who’s had a football at their feet that Coach Simmons hasn’t influenced or positively impacted in some way. “, Gordon Burnette, the director of communications of the PSRC who was coached by Simmons from the recreational level to the secondary level, tells The Robesonian. “While the name Kenny Simmons is synonymous with Robeson County football, he has been so much more to the boys and girls of our county. Coach Simmons has been an advocate, mentor and father figure to thousands of boys and girls from our county.
Simmons has been a lifelong Lumberton resident and graduated from Lumberton High School in 1985; he was on the school’s first football team in 1981 and also played wrestling and baseball for the Pirates.
As a student, Simmons had relationships with Alton G. Brooks and Finley Read; he now joins the former Pirates coaches as the namesake of an athletic facility on the Lumberton campus, as the Kenneth W. Simmons football facility is adjacent to the Alton G. Brooks football stadium and baseball field Finley Read.
“The mere thought of being mentioned in the same breath as these iconic characters is overwhelming,” Simmons said.
Simmons oversaw the construction of what is now the Kenneth W. Simmons Football Center in 2010. The ground was originally a practice field adjacent to Alton G. Brooks Stadium, where the team still played its games; in 2013, Pirates football teams began playing in first-class facilities.
“This guy here has spent countless hours working on this pitch,” Lumberton athletic director Adam Deese said. “I came here in 2018; I have seen countless hours that this man has sacrificed just to work and maintain, and his desire to make this field prosper. And not just for this field to grow and develop, but for its players who have gone through the program to grow and develop.
Simmons will continue to impact young football players in Lumberton and Robeson County. But when the Pirates men’s soccer team takes to the field in August for the 29th season under Simmons, they will be doing so for the first time on a field bearing their coach’s name.
“I guess it will be a little different, a little awkward maybe, walking on this pitch for the first time in August and playing on a pitch that has my name on it,” Simmons said. “But that won’t change anything – we’ll keep pushing and we’ll keep working and trying to get the best out of these kids, and we’ll try to be as successful as possible.”
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.