Just today, I got the pleasure of interviewing John Simko, a close family friend. Through my discussions with my parents, I knew Mr. Simko was an amazing athlete, but as I prepared for the interview I was reminded of how amazing he really was. He attended Sioux Falls Washington from 1953-1957, when it was consistently one of the largest high schools in the US at over 2,000 students. At Washington he was a four sport letterman. He won tennis titles in both singles and doubles all four years of high school, played on a state championship basketball team and an undefeated state championship football team, and was also a state-champion hurdler. From there, he went to Augustana where he was a four-sport athlete again. After college, Simko was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers; he continued to compete at tennis for years as well, winning many tournaments in SD, ND, NE, IA, and MN in singles and doubles. Today, he continues to play tennis and golf and be an all-around great person to be around.
Mr. Simko, you played so many different sports. Which would you say was your favorite and why?
Well, it was the one that was in season. Everybody played everything back then. You didn’t see the specialization like today, where we’re choosing kids’ “one sport” so early.
Describe to me the day in your Senior year that you won two state titles.
I don’t remember much about it except for that I was dead tired. I ran the high and low hurdles (with each race having 1-2 prelims before the final) in the morning, then drove to the tennis courts and competed in singles and doubles that afternoon. It was a good tired though. The other thing I remember about that day is that they scheduled my tennis matches around my track events so I could compete in both.
Who were your favorite coaches?
Well, if I had to say most influential I’d probably have to say Bob Burns. He coached me sophomore and junior year at WHS and another four years at Augustana, and he took me with him to work as a graduate assistant at the University of South Dakota. Other favorites of mine were Wally Diehl, who made it possible for me to compete in both tennis and track on that day my senior year, and Bill Autio, my coach from 6th/7th grade.
What do you feel you got out of sports besides the tangible achievements?
To answer that I’d have to tell you a little about Steve Wilkinson, a guy who I competed against in high school and College. He went to the University of Iowa for tennis and majored in Eastern Religions and Philosophy. He wrote a book called Love Serving Tennis in which he gives three crowns of athletics. They are:
- Always respect your opponent
- Always play with good sportsmanship
- Always give your best effort
So I would say those three crowns are what I’ve learned from sports. Steve really put it into words well.
How was your experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers?
*laughs* It was like the Army. Everyone should do it once. Sometimes sports are fun, and sometimes they are a challenge, and playing with the Steelers was often a challenge. I had a teammate named Big Daddy Lipscomb. He was a big, slow, 6’8″ DT, and he only ever moved fast when he had to tackle somebody. We had a meeting to start the week each Sunday night at 6 PM. Big Daddy Lipscomb would always pull up, singing, at about 6:05, then walk right past the coaches, through all the players, and plop down in a desk in the back making all kinds of noise while he did. This whole time, the coaches would have their hands over their faces. And once Big Daddy sat down, they would take their hands off their faces and continue the meeting like nothing happened. Another time, we were playing Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. The whistle blew for halftime, and we all saw Big Daddy Lipscomb running as fast as he had ever ran for the locker room. We all got there a couple minutes later and the whole locker room stunk. He had ran back to have a cigarette before halftime ended!
Well, thank you very much John. This has been great.