Dale Similton was 5 years old when his parents abandoned him and his six siblings.
Similton spent 1972-1982 at Boys’ Town in Pineville (now Elon Homes and Schools for Children in Charlotte), where his older brothers, Larry and Wendell also stayed. Similton excelled in what he describes as a “a supportive, Christian environment.”
He became a standout student-athlete at South Mecklenburg High, where he played basketball, track and football. As a wide receiver, he earned a spot on the Mars Hill College (now University) football team. Similton set records for most receiving yards in a season (940), touchdowns in a game (three) and receiving touchdowns in a season (12).
Similton again is in the school’s spotlight as he is among the 2015 class going into the Mars Hill Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony is set for Nov. 7.
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Similton said the experience is special because he gets to share it with his family, including his wife of 20 years, Dr. Mildred Similton, his sons, Joseph and Daniel, and his younger sister, Donna Rucker.
“It is very humbling to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Similton said. “When I first got the call that I’d be going into the Hall of Fame, it was overwhelming.
“For me being an abandoned child growing up, and now to get to share something like this with my wife and children and my sister, Donna, who was always my No. 1 fan, is hard to put into words.”
Now 52, Similton has spent the past 30 years helping others as an athletic director, coach and mentor.
After graduating from Mars Hill in 1985, Similton returned to Elon Home for Children in Charlotte to serve as a house parent.
“It was very rewarding to be able to go back to the place where I grew and help others facing the same kind of struggles like I did,” Similton said. “God has blessed me with a passion for helping children. The misery I suffered growing up as an abandoned child, ended up turning into a ministry for me to help kids who grew up just like myself.”
After five years at Elon Home for Children, Similton decided he also could help young people as a teacher and coach. He landed at Charlotte Latin School in 1991.
Similton worked 15 years as a history teacher, junior varsity football coach and varsity basketball assistant, under legendary Charlotte Latin coach Jerry Faulkner.
He also helped start and run Latin’s intramural program, where he often created games for the kids, while inviting guest speakers like Carolina Panthers’ standouts John Kasay and Steve Smith.
“Dale (Similton) has an incredible passion and zest for life and for helping kids, and he had a boundless energy to do so,” said Debbie Lamb, who, for 21 years, has been the head of Charlotte Latin middle school. “Because he came from a tough situation as a child, he appreciates family from his wife and children to his colleagues to his students.”
Similton also has served as the Covenant Day boys’ basketball coach (2006-08). And now he is athletic director and head boys’ basketball coach for high school varsity and middle school programs at Central Academy at Lake Park. Similton helped build the basketball programs and now they are annual contenders in the Charlotte Area Christian Athletic Association. He also runs “Similton Faith, Hope and Love” summer camps each June and July.
Sister as inspiration
Donna Similton Rucker would go anywhere to watch Dale play basketball or football. She also survived breast cancer as a high school student at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.
“My younger sister was a major source of motivation for me, because I saw all that she was going through and I wanted to do something for her,” Similton said.
As a senior, he gave Donna his No. 22 Mars Hill football jersey. Dale and Donna shared a special moment this year on Sept. 18 – Dale’s birthday. Donna gave back the jersey to Dale. He now has it framed in his house.
“I couldn’t believe she still had that jersey after all these years,” Dale Similton. “She always believed in me and still means a lot to me today.”
When he needs inspiration, Similton need only look at himself and his siblings Levon, Willie, Sherry, Larry, Wendell and Donna. All now live successful lives. Dale says football provided him many opportunities but a sport does not define him.
“I always wanted to be much more than just a football player,” Similton said recently. “Going into the Hall of Fame is a dream that I would have never expected.
“But for me, it’s not all about what I have accomplished, but about the journey I took. Through the practices, all the games, all the playing in the backyard dreaming of what I might accomplish. Then through all the setbacks, I never gave up. .... If people learn anything from my story, I want it to be to always give your best, always work hard, because you never know what can happen.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.