Sims Takes Down Shark Tank, Mat Foes

Mike Morlacci

posted February 23, 2018

Pitt-Johnstown senior D.J. Sims met with an intimidating foe. He knew he had to execute all that his coach had conveyed and have no fear.

It was December 7, 2017, in the Pitt-Johnstown Shark Tank competition

Marketing major and All-American wrestler Damon Sims Jr., a senior from Aliquippa, PA, applied his knowledge and passions to create a concept called Bear Paws, a training program to help football linemen learn the art of hand fighting. It is named for the Bear Paws Athletics/Wrestling Club and is designed to help heavyweights become better wrestlers.

“Years of research went into it because it is from two sports that I love the most: wrestling and football," said Sims, citing years of coaching at summer wrestling camps with former Mountain Cat and NCAA champion (and current assistant coach) Jody Strittmatter. "However, I was always a bigger a kid growing up, so I had to play on the line and wrestle as a heavyweight and there was never a dedicated person/club for lineman or heavyweight wrestlers, except for at camps in the summer.

"Bear Paws has not officially started yet because I am still an NCAA athlete. It has no home yet, however, we have had heavyweight practices only at the Mat Factory Wrestling Club in Lower Burrell, Pa.," Sims said.

His victory in the entrepreneurial arena was far from a walkover.

“I felt that I had the best idea, I just had to find a way to make everyone understand the product and what I had already accomplished with it. I actually had real-world experience with my product.

“Nothing surprised me,” said Sims. “The Sharks loved my idea. However, I had to make minor changes to develop it to become better. 

“I was coached really well by Dr. (Kristen) Majocha after my first presentation. We worked on my presentation so it looked better when I showed it to the Sharks so, that even if you never played those two sports, you would be able to understand that I was the product and what I was delivering.”

His coach had faith in him.

"I explained to D.J. that, from my perspective, the sell is about more than skill and technique," said Majocha, an associate professor of communication. "(Because) D.J. is an exceptional athlete on a national scale and parents will want their kids to be taught by him and his team, D.J. is the product, too."

Pitt-Johnstown senior D.J. Sims met with an intimidating foe. He knew he had to execute all that his coach had conveyed and have no fear. 

It was January 16, 2018, and the No. 6-ranked Mountain Cats wrestling team trailed No. 25 Seton Hill, 17-16.

The final match, at the 285 lb. weight class, featured Sims vs. Jody Crouse at 285 lbs.

His coach had faith in him. 

"D.J. Sims is one of the most enjoyable young men I have ever coached," said Pitt-Johnstown Wrestling Coach Pat Pecora. "He is the epitome of hard work, dedication and persistence both on the mats and in the classroom. His smile lights up a room and everyone in it."

Sims has been named First-Team NWCA All-Academic Wrestling Team for three consecutive years and earned All-American honors this year.

Sims has won more than 60 matches during his Pitt-Johnstown career. On this night, he left no doubt, scoring a “walk-off” technical fall by a score of 21-4 at 6:54. The effort secured a 21-17 victory for Pitt-Johnstown.

Pecora, a member of several halls of fame and the NCAA's second-winningest coach of all time, was pleased and not surprised. 

"Without reservation, I can say that D.J. Sims is one of the finest young men I have known in my 40 years as a coach, teacher, and administrator," he said.  

The work that led to these experiences, he said, offer similar life lessons in handling pressure.

“Knowing that the worst thing that I can do is lose and not to fear it,” he said, is key.

“Once the fear of losing is gone, the things that you can achieve while performing are amazing. I focus on all the positive things that are working for me in a match and just keep moving along.

“As long as I know what my worst outcomes can be, I'll take the risk on being very successful because I will not be afraid of failure. And then, amazing things will happen.”

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is marking was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” The distinctive combination of Pitt-Johnstown’s people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success. Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World.