ELIZABETH, Ind. – Greg Robinson had just started his second tenure in 2016 as basketball coach at South Central High, a 214-enrollment school serving the communities of Elizabeth and Laconia and the surrounding countryside in the rolling hills of Harrison County in southern Indiana.
Robinson was running a youth camp for elementary students that summer, showing the young campers the correct mechanics for shooting a free throw. He explained to the kids how their thumbs should form a “T” on the ball. Robinson then walked around the gym, making sure each of them had their thumbs in the correct position.
He stopped at sixth-grader Landis Sims, who was born without hands and without legs below the knee.
“He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if that is going to help me out,’ ” Robinson recalled. “He had a big smile on his face. That’s probably the first conversation I had with him at that camp. At that age, he was already very comfortable with his situation.”
Sims, 15, is now a freshman at South Central. He is 6-foot-2, playing mostly on the freshman team with a few minutes here and there on the junior varsity. He wears No. 35. Sims loves to compete, especially in baseball, his favorite sport.
Even during the basketball season, he makes regular visits to New Albany to work on his hitting and stay sharp for baseball season. But basketball is fun, too, and he especially enjoys announcing the South Central varsity games for the school’s YouTube channel.
“He’s like every other kid,” said his mother, Amanda Sims, a business teacher at South Central and a 1996 graduate of the school. “He just knows he has to work a little bit harder.”
Landis, since he was 6 months old, loved any sport with a ball. He started playing basketball in a church league at age 3 with prosthetic legs. He started playing baseball the following year.
“He was barely able to run at that point with his prosthetics, but he just loved being part of a team and having that experience,” Amanda said. “Physical therapy for him was playing sports. That’s how he got so good with walking and running. It was because he had this passion for sports.”
That passion has never left Landis, who goes through the drills and routine of a South Central basketball practice with welcome normalcy. He catches every pass thrown to him, shoots with a nice, easy backspin and is a willing screener. Landis’ teammates do not think twice about treating him the same as everyone else.
“They go 100% with me,” Landis said.
Like any motivated athlete, Landis is always in search of added inspiration. He knows there are those out there who may question what he can accomplish – even to his face.
Landis’ motto has always been: “Just watch me.”
“I like when people tell me I can’t do something,” he said. “So I can prove them wrong. It gives me more grit to go out and do it. Last year, somebody I hang out with a lot asked me if I was going to be a manager because they didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with the team. I said, ‘No, I’m going to play. I’ll keep up. And I have so far.’ ”
Landis’ South Central teammates do not have to look far for their source of motivation. Christian Kiper, also a freshman and South Central’s second-leading scorer, has been friends with Landis since the first grade. Kiper said anytime he thinks about complaining or feeling sorry for himself at practice, all he has to do is look over at Landis.
Those moments of self-pity are fleeting.
“There are so many things that I’d never guess he could do but he does them,” Kiper said. “He surprises me. He’s very inspirational.”
But even Amanda had her doubts a few years ago that Landis would be able to accomplish what he is doing now. Not because of anything he could not do personally, but because of the technology.
The prosthetic legs he had at the time did not have much flexibility or bounce. Landis lagged behind the rest of the team getting up and down the court.
“The technology changing the last couple of years is absolutely the reason he can compete at this level,” Amanda said.
There were some great connections made along the way that helped Landis. Through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Landis, a New York Yankees fan, was invited to spring training in 2016.
He took batting practice with the team and the then 10-year-old Landis signed a one-day contract in the Yankees’ clubhouse. Then-Yankees manager Joe Girardi has remained in contact with the family.
“He called us the other day,” Amanda said. “He was like, ‘Hey, this is my number. Keep in touch. Let me know how baseball goes.’ We’ve been very blessed. I think people see how humble Landis is when they meet him and they know he doesn’t ask for anything or expect handouts. He doesn’t come out here and expect to make the team. He thinks, ‘I’m going to make the team because I worked hard and I deserve it.’ ”
In 2017, MLB Network invited Sims to the studio in New York, where he took batting practice with Eric Byrnes and Kevin Millar in April. In June, he returned to the MLB Network to announce the Yankees’ first round draft pick.
In October, in a reunion on Zoom, Byrnes and Millar presented a brand-new pair of Ossur running legs to Landis on behalf of CAF, Ossur and Rotter Prosthetics.
“The feet give him lateral movement,” Amanda said. “The legs are a lot lighter versus having a lot of metal or heavy plastic that they used to have for a prosthetic.”
There have been difficult days along the way, of course. Landis, because he has never known anything different physically, said the challenges are often more mental than physical. But those days, Amanda said, were mostly when he was younger. Landis said it has become “easier to figure things out” as he gets older.
“He would get very frustrated when he was little,” Amanda said. “And that was more him trying to express his emotions. We would have days where we would say, ‘This is just a day to cry. We’re going to cry today. When we’re done, we’re done.’ And those are days we used to have. And I think that probably benefited him. I expect bad days. It’s not fair. But we would talk about how people have different things that affect them and yours just happens to be hands and feet. We just do the best with what we’ve got. He’s kind of taken that mentality to face everything that he’s up against.”
Landis likes basketball. And he truly loves announcing the varsity games. His long-term goal is to be a sports broadcaster, preferably in baseball and preferably at MLB Network.
“I don’t know if I want to do game commentating or be in the studio,” he said. “But one or the other is definitely what I want to do. I want to go to college and get my broadcasting degree.”
He is thinking somewhere warm, like San Diego State, to pursue that dream. But the short-term dream is to make his high school baseball team. Landis, a sweet-swinging left-handed hitter and a second baseman, has an individually designed attachment that allows him to grip the bat.
“I’m not quite the fastest, but I try to take advantage of where I play on the field,” Landis said. “I know how hard our pitchers throw so I know where to play, how close to second and how far from second to play. Just mentally trying to take advantage of being smart and knowing the game really well. The whole game, really, is just great. It’s just great being able to play.”
That is really all Landis wants – an opportunity. He is no different from any other 15-year-old, sports-loving kid in that respect. In another, he is unlike any competitor his teammates or opponents have seen. Landis is even unlike most of the limb-deficient athletes he has met over the years, who gravitate to sports such as running, swimming or biking.
Robinson, since he met a sixth-grade Landis at basketball camp, has been consistently amazed by his work ethic and will. He has heard the same from several opposing coaches this season. His first shot of the season, against county rival Corydon, came on a 3-pointer as he trailed on the fast break.
“He’s is a guy who is not looking for help,” Robinson said. “He’s just going to do his thing and figure out how to do it with what he’s got. If we could all do that all the time, it would be a lot better world.”
Landis does not play to be an inspiration. He plays because that is what wants to do. But he knows there are others out there who might fight those doubts.
“If you’re an amputee, you just have to go out and do it,” he said. “No matter what you might think you can’t do or what people tell you that you can’t do – even if your parents are saying that you can’t do it. You at least have to try and get up on your prosthetics, even if you don’t like them. You’ll eventually figure out a way to overcome and be just as good as everybody else.”
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