Cindy Brinker Simmons (Col ’79) smiles whenever she recalls her “glorious, exhilarating, and exciting four years at UVA.”
Simmons was the top female tennis player in Texas in her age division throughout her competitive junior career and consistently ranked in the top 10-20 nationally, thus making her a very popular college recruit throughout the country. Gordon Burris, who retired last year as senior assistant to the president after 47 years of service at UVA, was involved in tennis recruiting at the time and reached out to Simmons on numerous occasions. UVA was beckoning and she responded.
“Gordon’s encouragement made me feel confident that UVA would be a very good fit for me,” said Simmons.
The University had just added women to its enrollment a few years before Simmons graduated from high school, and the women’s tennis program was newly emerging.
“I was excited about the opportunity in which I could help lay the foundation and pioneer UVA women’s tennis into a competitive national program,” she said.
Simmons played the No. 1 spot for UVA during her four years and was captain of the team her fourth year. She also competed on the cross-country team for three years. Among other honors, she was the recipient of the IMP Award for Outstanding Female Athlete, awarded annually to UVA’s top female athlete. A communications and Spanish double major, Simmons was one of three student-athletes who founded the Kappa Delta sorority on Grounds, was active with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and was inducted into the IMP Society.
Upon graduation, she returned to Dallas to establish a successful public relations firm, which later merged with another communications powerhouse. However, Simmons wanted immediately to invest in UVA as a way of expressing her heartfelt gratitude for its impact on her life.
“I recognized the incredible blessing I had in attending UVA and that my confidence, leadership skills, and talents were honed and strengthened throughout my time on Grounds,” she said. “My parents had always taught me the importance of giving back so I immediately established The Cindy Brinker Endowed Scholarship for Women’s Tennis.” (When she married Bob Simmons in 1990, she added “Simmons” to the title of her scholarship.)
She initially placed a small sum of money into the endowment to get started, back in 1998. But over the years, she has continually added to it.
The scholarship has been awarded for seven years to five women tennis team members (two held the scholarship for two years each). Recipients have gone on to pursue careers in tennis, finance, business, and communications.
“What is so gratifying is that I have a relationship with many of the remarkable players who received this scholarship,” said Simmons. “They are such intelligent, gifted, and diligent student-athletes who will continue to be ambassadors of tennis throughout their lives.”
Tennis is part of Simmons’ legacy. Her late mother was world tennis champion Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly, who won Wimbledon three times (1952-54) and was the first woman to win the coveted Grand Slam in 1953 (winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open in one calendar year). Simmons is president of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation, one of the largest private junior tennis organizations worldwide. In 1980 she founded Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit organization that funds national meritorious pediatric cancer research projects, in memory of her mother, who died of cancer in 1969 at age 34.
Simmons is thrilled to serve on the Virginia Athletics Foundation’s Board of Trustees. She is also a member of the University’s three central giving societies: the Lawn, Cornerstone, and Rotunda Societies. In addition, she is actively engaged on international ministry boards..
Cassie Mercer (Col ’18) is the 2017-18 recipient of The Cindy Brinker Simmons Endowed Scholarship for Women’s Tennis. A foreign affairs major, Mercer is considering law school after graduation. She reached a peak ranking of No. 48 in singles during the season and was named ACC Player of the Week in January 2017. Off the court, Mercer is a student-athlete mentor, a volunteer for Athletes Committed to Education, and a participant in the I Am More program, a series of career development workshops. In the local community, she tutors elementary school students. “It was awesome to be given the opportunity to help younger students not only with their school work, but serving as an encouragement to them to pursue college and letting them know that anything is possible,” said Mercer.