Senior track and field sprinter Elon Simms was presented with the McMurry Citizenship Award at the College of Social Work Annual Scholarship Luncheon, held at the Faculty Club on Wednesday May 20, 2009

Story by Jennifer Heller ( and Erin Neal (

“I never knew what it was when I was doing it as a kid. Looking back, I would do things for people, people who needed help. When I got to Ohio State I saw the quote in the Stadium, Woody Hayes said it: “Pay it forward.” That phrase put meaning and words to what I was already doing.”

This concept has motivated OSU scholar athlete Elon Simms as long as he can remember.  “There have been many people who have helped me along the way, and I just try to treat others with the same respect and empathy that I have been treated with.”

Simms, a social work major in the class of 2009, has been a member of the Men’s Track and Field Team for the last four years, the last two of which he was named Captain.  Although track is a large component of his life, Simms is driven to community service.  Because of this, he is this year’s selection to receive the McMurry Citizenship Award from Ohio State’s College of Social Work.

A friend’s death in a car accident turned Simms’ life:  it both inspired him to memorialize a friend, and also led him to study social work. In 2005, Simms helped coordinate a track meet in his hometown of Fremont, Ohio.  He created this meet in memory of his longtime friend and teammate, David John Guardiola, who was killed in an automobile accident.  The meet has continued each year since then and typically attracts 300 – 400 people, while raising money for Guardiola’s scholarship foundation. “Elon’s skills in leadership and organization are the glue that keeps this event going year after year,” Simms’ coach and nominator Robert Gary explains.

His decision to major in social work also has seeds in his friend’s death.  After his son died, David’s father decided to change directions.  He returned to school in Toledo, Ohio for his Masters degree in Social Work.  When Simms was searching for his niche at Ohio State, he talked to David’s dad.  “He told me about his experiences in the MSW program at Toledo, so I took a class.  The field of social work offers so much, you can do so many different things, from child welfare to gerontology.  I really like that about social work.”

Respected by his peers, Simms tries to be a positive influence for others, whether on the field, in the classroom, or at home. “I want to be open for people to come to me when they have problems, and be able to touch people’s lives in a positive way.” Most recently Simms, along with his teammates, has become a mentor at the 5th Avenue Elementary School. “It’s so great to see the kids’ faces light up when we come in the room. We are there to show them that there are people out there who care for them.”

“I believe there’s something in each of us which drives us to do what we do, and for me it’s helping others. That’s what gives me personal satisfaction,” Simms explained.

Next year Simms will enroll in the Title IV-E program for Child Welfare.  Under this program, he will complete his field placement at Franklin County Children Services and will have a job there upon graduation.  He looks forward to living and working in Columbus for a long time.

Simms also earned the title of First Team All Big Ten in 2008. His coach, Robert Gary, describes him as a “Tireless worker and a caring individual.  I am confident wherever Elon finally calls home, that community will be a better place to live because of him and his tireless pursuit to help others.”

It is these personality traits exemplified by Simms that secured his selection as this year’s winner of the McMurry Scholar-Athlete Citizen Award. This award honors student athletes with a minimum 3.0 GPA, who have demonstrated outstanding interest in volunteerism and those who best exemplify the idea of “Education for Citizenship” through significant volunteer service to the community. 

Coaches representing the 36 varsity sports nominated candidates for this award, and a committee of graduate-level social work student leaders selected the recipient.  The award was presented at the College of Social Work Annual Scholarship Luncheon, held at the Faculty Club on Wednesday May 20, 2009.