He was a coach, teacher and innovator, and now Jim Simle, 79, is receiving some special well-deserved recognition. Simle - known by many as Sim - and Melissa Henning will be the first two people inducted in the American Gold Gymnastics Hall of Fame on April 27. Simle is the founder and former head coach of the fabulous Fargo-Moorhead Acro Team.
Sim and his wife, Mary, were teachers in Williston when they moved to Fargo in 1965. In 1969, Sim was a physical education teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Fargo and wanted to get back into coaching, and so the Acro Team was born with 20 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students.
“It was fun. The kids loved it,” Simle said. “I wanted to create more opportunities for girls.”
Unfortunately, the team didn’t have a place to practice. The team’s first show was part of a Cub Scout banquet at Fargo’s Lincoln Elementary School. From those humble origins the team skyrocketed. From performing at local high schools to the Class A and Class B state basketball tournaments to NDSU to UND to the University of Minnesota (44 straight years) to other major universities to halftimes of 26 NBA teams to nine NBA All-Star games to nine Minnesota Vikings games.
Every place the Acro Team performs the reaction is the same. People love the tumbling, jumping and diving from this highly synchronized team. The crowd's oohs and aahs are always loud with every gravity-defying leap. Enthusiastic standing ovations are standard at every venue. Sim created a team unlike any other in the country. They were named the official goodwill ambassadors from North Dakota. This upbeat, family-friendly and highly-athletic team touches people’s hearts.
“I never imagined it would get this big,” Simle said. “I hoped to have a little tumbling team and then it took off.”
I had the pleasure of covering the Acro Team in the 1980s for WDAY-TV. It was a fun break from covering criminals and politicians. The highlight was traveling with them to Kansas City with photographer Dave Wee to put together a 30-minute documentary on the team. They were performing at two Kansas City Kings games (now the Sacramento Kings). The Kings were the first NBA team to invite the Acro Team and the fans were dazzled, as was I.
I found Sim to be a calm, soothing and encouraging coach who inspired his talented athletes. I was amazed to see how much athleticism, teamwork and precision was put into each performance.
“I’m very proud of these teams,” Simle said. “These girls worked hard. They’re athletes. They cry. They thank you. They were wonderful to coach.”
Stacey Simle, Sim’s daughter, was a performer, assistant coach and head coach of the Acro Team for 40 years.
“He always cares about people. Always makes people feel special,” Stacey said. “I learned so much from him. Dad always brightened my day. He always made things better for his athletes, staff, custodians and neighbors.”
Sim had an enormous positive impact on thousands of youngsters, and his teams thrilled millions of fans. Not many people can say that.
“This hall of fame honor makes me feel all of it was worth it,” Simle said.
It certainly was.