Nov. 4, 2005
by André Bayard
If you've watched a college football game on television this year, you're likely familiar with the NCAA's new marketing campaign. In one, a men's basketball player shoots hoops while talking about his pro prospects -- as a jazz musician; in another, a hammer thrower relates the difficulty of her event to the relative ease of studying biomechanical engineering. Each ends with the slogan, "There are over 360,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of us are going pro in something other than sports."
The NCAA should have done a commercial with senior fullback James Sims -- not only is he a perfect fit for the NCAA's new campaign, he could have directed, produced and starred in the commercial himself. Making movies has long been a passion of Sims', and with a few award-winning short films already under his belt, he's ready to turn his attention to the big screen.
The Ring Fling, Sims' spoof of horror flick The Ring starring himself, cornerback Matt Fountaine and sprinter Shelton Sampson, won first prize at UW's Student Film Festival in 2004, and a sequel is in the works. Is it too much to predict that eventually we might see Sims walking up to receive an Emmy or an Academy Award? It might seem like a lot to imagine now, but with the hard work and dedication that Sims has put into his academics, athletics, and extra-curricular film work, who's to question what he might accomplish?
Academically, Sims has been a model for those NCAA ads, recognizing that there's a reason college players are called "student-athletes," and not "athlete-students."
"My family always told me that education comes first," he says. "My mother basically told me that I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I kept my grades up. So that was pretty much a given."
By not entering the competitive sports arena until his freshman year at Las Vegas' Valley High School, Sims built a solid academic foundation upon which he could begin to build a career in athletics. Sims says that putting academics before athletics helped him maintain perspective on the various aspects of his life, even as he incorporated more and more into an already busy schedule.
"I was involved with many different things in high school," recalls Sims. "I had perfect attendance, and tried to maintain a 4.0 grade-point average. I was student body president -- the first black student body president ever at my high school. I also did sports, and I wanted to do well in those too. I just wanted to have fun, and make my high school experience as fun as possible. I really didn't want to slack off in anything."
Sims was too busy to worry about slacking off. As a sophomore, he added Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) duties to his regimen, simply for the sake of a new experience. True to his word, he gave his all to ROTC and was named Cadet of the Year after just one year in the program. Having reached the top of that particular mountain, Sims returned his attention to football, track and field, and academics -- fusing the three until his effort in each became intertwined with his effort in the other, each sparking the others to greater levels of success.
It wasn't until he arrived at Washington, however, that Sims developed what would become his primary love -- cinematography. A wizard with a video camera since his childhood years, Sims gravitated towards the UW's Comparative Literature department, and the cinematography classes it offered. Sims knew after just one class that he desired a career in film -- and as he had with academics, football, track and field and ROTC before, Sims threw everything he had in pursuit of that goal.
"Whatever I do with my future, it is going to involve film or television," he says. "I don't know which one I would choose, but if I go for film, I probably want to be a film editor because I enjoy editing and piecing things together. But if I get into television, I want to do some producing and on-screen stuff."
That's right -- Sims is not only a director and producer; he's comfortable on either side of the camera. His performance in The Ring Fling, as a dancing, singing chef oblivious to the horrors befalling his friends in his living room, left film festival audiences in stitches. Acting was actually Sims' first introduction to the film business, long before he ever picked up a camera.
"I did a couple of commercials as a kid; I had an agent and everything," he says. "It was really fun. I was in a Nissan commercial as a family member, and I also did a play that ran at a major theater in Phoenix. I was 12 years old when I did that and it was really my first acting experience, so this is something I've had a passion for for a long time."
Whether acting, directing, excelling in school or scoring touchdowns on the football field, Sims is constantly seeking a new challenge and a new experience. He hopes his efforts will demonstrate to a younger generation that the same qualities that help one succeed in school can also help on the football field, and that the more areas in which one can be successful, the more well-rounded a person they can become.
"I have always been goal-driven," he says. "There are things that I want to accomplish in life, and I know the steps along the way that I need to take in order to do those things. I hope that younger student-athletes, those who read about me and see what I do, will see that you really can do a lot of things if you're willing to work hard enough."
James Sims can not be defined as a student, or as an athlete. He is truly a student-athlete, and there are few who do it better.