SB FILE / 1983
Jack Sims lettered for the Hawaii football team from 1982 to 1984, as did his brother Marty.
Former ’Bow goes Hollywood
Jack Sims worked at Camp Kilpatrick, subject of the hit movie "Gridiron Gang"
BEFORE "The Rock" coached the "Gridiron Gang" for Hollywood, Jack Sims did it in real life.
And before that, Sims made a name for himself here as a player at Radford High School and the University of Hawaii.
After UH and a tryout with the Denver Broncos and part of a season with the Seattle Seahawks, Sims moved to Los Angeles and eventually became a probation officer.
Because of his football background, Sims was assigned to Camp Kilpatrick, where Sean Porter was starting a football team of youthful violent offenders.
"Word got around that I'd played football and they asked me to come over and coach in 1990," said Sims, in a phone interview from the Big Island (he is vacationing in Hawaii). "My primary duty was to provide a safe environment at the camp, secondary to be a coach."
Sims appeared in the 1991 documentary about the team, which played 11-man football against regular high school teams for the first time in Sims' first year, 1990. He said the studio version, in theaters now and starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Porter, is pretty close to what really happened.
"The portrayal was correct," Sims said. "We really struggled to get into the league. The reason it succeeded is we didn't bring our stuff with us. Our reputation was at stake. A bad situation could easily arise if one of our players was provoked. We made sure to address that before we left the camp for games."
Michael Black is the biggest on-field success story to come from the program. The star running back played at Washington State, and then for the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
Sims said it was even more rewarding when he talked to the quarterback from the 1990 team at a recent Kilpatrick game.
"He's married with two kids and works as a computer tech," Sims said. "He told me he took his son, who is about 10 or 11, to see the movie. It allowed him to share with his son that he'd made mistakes but he turned it around.
"It really made a difference for a lot of these kids. A lot of them were risking embarrassment, because they never played before. They had to trust the coaches that we had their best interest at heart."
Of course, not every juvenile who played for Kilpatrick became a perfect citizen.
"We've had our failures, too," Sims said.
One player from the 1990 team ended up in Hawaii. He made the mistake of trying to escalate gang activity at Radford -- Sims' alma mater.
"Mr. Stevens (principal Bobby) wouldn't allow it," Sims said.
Jack Sims, and his brother, Marty, were outstanding athletes at Radford in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Rams were consistently strong in sports.
"My dad was in the Navy, so he was often gone. I had a supportive family, but the coaches at Radford were important male mentors for me," Sims said. "I think that's one of the reasons I got into the work I did."
Jack and Marty went on to play for the Rainbows, both lettering from 1982 through 1984.
"Jack was a hard-nosed guy but easygoing," said Kyle Mosley, a rival at Leilehua and teammate with the Rainbows. "No nonsense but a nice guy. He wasn't flashy. One year he played both offense (guard) and defense (tackle)."
Sims, 44, has worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Probation for 17 years. He was recently promoted to the title of director, supervising what he described as "special enforcement operations."
"The majority of it is around gangs," said Sims, who supervises around 50 deputies and other employees. "You know when you see on TV guys going into the homes to get a violator at 5 a.m.? That's what my guys do."
He coached at Kilpatrick five years, but doesn't have time to any more.
"We play a support role, a supervision role at the games now," Sims said.
It's been 16 years since the project started, and it's still going strong.
"Everybody bought into it. It was a tool for a lot of these guys to see themselves in a positive light for the first time. Also for their families. They'd come out and see them and it would often be the first time they could feel proud of something their child did," Sims said.
"The hard part was that every year it was a new group of kids, never any returnees. And knowing at the end of the season they'd go back to their previous environment. Many times it broke our hearts."