FLORENCE — Maybe Saturday's Division II national championship game didn't go exactly as Allean Sims would have liked, but in the end it didn't matter.
Sims, known by the Winston-Salem State University community as, "Momma Ram" was at the game in Florence's Braly Stadium and that was all that counted.
Sims, who uses a wheelchair since breaking her neck three years ago in a fall, leaving her unable to walk, was in the midst of a sea of red well before the noon kickoff.
The Winston-Salem State Rams were defeated by the Valdosta State Blazers, 35-7. The game marked Valdosta's third national championship, winning in 2004 and 2007.
But Sims never lost heart. Wrapped in Rams-colored red and black blankets to protect against the wind, Sims didn't miss a play. In fact, for more than 40 years, the 65-year-old has attended Winston-Salem State sporting events. A 1969 graduate of the school, she said she witnessed first-hand the Rams perfect (regular) season and, "Just had to get to Florence to be part of this historic event."
Sims said she'd love to have bragging rights of a national championship for the next year, but she's still proud of this year's team.
"I've been to all the games this year but one and I couldn't go then because I was in the hospital," she said.
But getting to Florence, 10 hours away, proved a bigger challenge. When her story aired on a news station in her hometown, a man she'd never met, Roderick Jessup, offered her a ride to the game through his company, Gate City Transportation. Sims accepted the offer, was given four tickets by Winston-Salem State, and by 10 a.m. Saturday, was in Florence along with her cousin, who travels to games with Sims. The company also sent along two EMTs and an attendant.
One of the company's employees, Cindy Henson, said Sims and her entourage left about midnight Friday and arrived Saturday morning.
"Not once did I hear any kind of complaint, just sheer excitement for getting to make this trip," Henson said. "She's absolutely thrilled about being here."
While Sims was already in place in the stands well before kickoff, other Winston-Salem State fans were tailgating on Spirit Hill outside the stadium. Hundreds of fans were enjoying a massive fish fry and line dancing.
Theo Howard, the school's assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, said he was pleased with the big turnout that made the 10-hour drive, but not at all surprised.
"This is a very loyal community of people, and we really travel well," he said, adding that dozens of students chose to make the trip to Florence instead of going home immediately after school was out last week for Christmas break.
Sha'meisha Richards, a junior at Winston-Salem State, said her decision came down to having a few extra days with family at home or coming to Florence and supporting her beloved Rams. The Rams won out.
"I'm still going home. I just needed to be here to support this team," she said. "I think everyone at home understands."
Valdosta State fans said before kickoff they had a good feeling about Saturday's game.
Evelyn Goodwin said she was sick in bed when her grandson was playing in Florence five years ago. She still remembers the sting of missing that game. So, she was determined to make it to Florence this year.
"When I realized we were heading back to the championship game, I resolved right then to go," she said. "I may not have a grandson playing, but I know a lot of these kids and they're really fun to watch. I've had a good feeling about this team all year. I felt in my heart we'd get back here."
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.