February 1, 2019

 

For Cecilia Mimms, a longtime IPS educator, winning girls’ basketball coach and former star basketball player, being called a legend is nothing new. It’s also not something she dwells on or even thinks about regularly.

But Cathedral High School might soon change that.

On Friday, February 8, Mimms will receive what some would call the ultimate recognition for a former player: A court named in her honor.

The dedication of the Cecilia M. Mimms ’77 Gymnasium will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Cathedral High School, 5225 E. 56th St.

It’s an honor that elicits a range of emotions in Mimms, who works as a life skills teacher and basketball and volleyball coach at Northwest Middle School (formerly Northwest High School).

“Kathy Welsh (a former Cathedral teammate) called one day and said, ‘What do you think about us naming the gym for you?’ said Mimms. “My mouth just kind of dropped.  … I was just blown away that a school with the reputation (Cathedral) has, with its spiritual connection, its reputation for development. … I could say so many things about Cathedral. And they named their court after little old me?”

Mimms’ connection and contribution to Cathedral goes back decades.

In 1977, she was a member of the school’s first women’s basketball team after Cathedral became co-ed during her senior year of high school. (Mimms attended the all-girls Ladywood-St. Agnes until it merged with Cathedral, a former all-boys school.) She also had varsity letters in volleyball and track, was an Indiana All-Star and was named to the Indianapolis and Metro All-Star teams that year.

By then, Mimms and her teammates were in the midst of a winning streak that would exceed 70 games over three years. Their run ended at the hands of rival Arsenal Technical High School, which Cathedral had beaten twice that year.

Mimms went on to play basketball at Vincennes and Western Kentucky universities, earning a degree in education. During the early 1980s, however, there weren’t any competitive playing options for Mimms after graduating from college (the WNBA didn’t begin until the late 1990s), so she set her sights on teaching and only dreamed of coaching.

Then Susan Jahnke, Arsenal Tech’s head coach, reached out.

“She called me and said, ‘I’d like you to take over my team,’” said Mimms. “‘Come be my assistant for a year, see how I do things.’ So, after she retired, I took over as we discussed, and next thing I know nine years had passed.”

It was Mimms’ first coaching job.

At Arsenal Tech, Mimms won three city titles. She also taught and coached at both School 72 (Emma Donnan) and Northwest High School. After nine years, she took a leave of absence from coaching (basketball, volleyball and track) that stretched over several years.

Supporters wouldn’t let her stay gone.

“My principal (at Northwest) came back to me and said, ‘You’re wasting your talent. We need you back.’ And they really played to my ego. That’s how I got back.”

That ego-play? Posters put up around the school claiming “A Legend is Returning” in reference to Mimms. The culprit? Longtime friend and IPS employee Deatra Cannon-Young.

“We were putting the posters all over the school, and young ladies wanted to come out (and play for her),” said Cannon-Young, who has known Mimms for 20 years but admits she didn’t understand the depth of her friend’s accomplishments on the hardwood.

“It went right over my head. I’m not a sports person,” said Cannon-Young about Mimms’ notoriety. “(But during one game) there was a parent in the stands rooting for the other team, and he said he could tell we were better coached.”

Cannon-Young can’t contain her excitement about the gym dedication. “I have been telling EVERYONE,” she said. “I definitely understand how important it is.”

For Mimms, the honor is not just the culmination of a career not yet over. It’s also validation of a lifetime spent trying to do things the right way, being an example, and passing those values down for generations to come.

“What I learned from my high school coach is it isn’t all about basketball. It’s about building a strong foundation and character, and developing the player as well as the athlete,” said Mimms, who made Cathedral’s Silver Anniversary Team (2002) and was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame (2003). “When I’m out at places, I see some of my old players, and they tell me, ‘I do this in my life because of how you influenced me.’ For me, that’s the biggest sense of gratitude you can have as a coach.”

For tickets to the dedication of the Cecilia M. Mimms ’77 Gymnasium, click here.