Gwinnett County family has history of AJC Cup winners

When the 2020 AJC Cup winners were announced, one winner stood out among the rest for a particular pattern.

Emma Simpson, a graduate of Buford High School, is the fourth person in her family to win the decades-old award.

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One of the oldest news organization award programs in the country, the AJC Cup began in 1927 and honors high school graduates who excel in academics, leadership, community service and extra-curricular activities. The award recognizes the hard work and commitment of metro Atlanta students as well as some who attend schools outside the metro area.

“Prior to winning the AJC Cup, I had definitely heard of it before as my brother had just won it a few years earlier,” Emma told the AJC. “However, in the moment my mind thought it was some type of athletic or sports award, and I jokingly shouted out my name – because I have not one athletic bone in my body – only for them to actually announce that I had won!”

Emma Simpson, 2020 AJC Cup winner.

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

Emma’s brother, Roman Simpson – or as he’s known in the family and at the time, Cooper – won the award in 2016 when he was a senior at Buford High School. That was more than two decades after Emma and Roman’s uncle, Jeff Collins, won the award as a senior at McEachern High School in 1994. He followed his sister, Emma and Roman’s mother, Tricia Simpson, taking home the same award in 1988 when she was about to graduate from McEachern.

The first in her family to win the award for best all-around senior, Tricia explained she recalls her father’s reaction the most.

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“My dad, Charles Collins, was a teacher and coach at John McEachern High School from 1976-1982,” she said. “He was so excited for me and made sure I knew what an honor it was to be selected by teachers and staff for the award.

“Our principal, Ralph Williams, made a huge impact on my life along with so many of my teachers,” added Tricia, who has been married for 27 years to Jess Simpson, a championship-winning Georgia high school football coach turned Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach. “I always wanted them to be proud of me and to know that I was grateful for them. Being selected as the AJC Cup winner meant so much to me because I felt I had earned their respect.”

Less than a decade later, Jeff would join his sister as an AJC Cup winner, having been one of four captains on the high school football team and the Coca-Cola Golden Helmet Award-winner. Jeff was also an MVP on the baseball team and served as co-president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was even named Mr. MHS with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Ivy, who was Ms. MHS.

Jeff Collins (left) and sister Tricia Simpson.

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

“We joke that I beat her for AJC Cup,” he said. “She’ll never let that down.”

But while Ivy didn’t win AJC Cup at McEachern, the couple’s niece and nephew did beginning 22 years later with Roman. Emma’s older brother won after he strove for “triple-A excellence,” that he said was encouraged at Buford High. That meant excelling in academics, arts and athletics.

“I always tried to be my best in all three areas and I think teachers noticed that and therefore felt compelled to vote for me in this award,” he said. “I would encourage seniors to be multi-faceted and always engaged, however, I would also say to not focus on winning any awards, but rather strive to make the best possible impact on your surrounding community.”

L-R: Tricia Simpson, Roman Simpson and Jeff Collins.

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

Credit: Courtesy of Tricia Simpson

Four years later, his sister, Emma won the award. She was involved in musical theatre, dance, the executive leadership council and nannied for “a family that I love on the afternoons that I was free.” She also spent three years leading a small group of middle school girls at Gwinnett Church.

“I basically just loved to stay busy and stay involved, so I was rarely ever home. I learned how to walk in the halls of Buford High School as a toddler, and I am so grateful to get one final walk across the stage with my friends on July 24th,” she said.

That the AJC Cup has been awarded to four family members across three different decades may come as a surprise, but the family credits their kin’s history of striving for academic excellence for having the skills to win the honor.

“It is definitely an amazing honor, but I mainly see it as a testament to my grandparents and the people that they raised my mom and uncle to be,” Emma said. “Academic and community excellence are both extremely important to us as a family.”

“We have a long line of educators on both sides of our family, so academic excellence has definitely been a lifelong theme!” Tricia said. “My husband coached at Buford for 20+ years and we always approached that as something our family was doing together.”

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With a history of academic excellence, each member of the Collins-Simpson AJC Cup-winning family has achieved success in their own rights.

Roman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May. L-R: Luke Simpson, Dana Simpson, Jake Simpson, Roman Simpson, Tricia Simpson, Emma Simpson and Jess Simpson.

Credit: David Hanks Photography

Credit: David Hanks Photography

Tricia graduated from Auburn University with a degree in interior environments before becoming a freelance interior designer. In recent years, she’s made her family, which includes two other sons, Jake and Luke, and his wife, Dana, her main priority.

Jeff is currently the sales manager at Forest Parks’ Peach State Freightliner, which he said is the market leader in Atlanta for class 6, 7, and 8 trucks.

Roman graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point in June and is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Emma is set to follow in her mom’s footsteps and attend Auburn in the fall where she’ll study nursing.

As for the advice the family’s newest AJC Cup winner has for future winners, she points to the uniqueness of being chosen by school faculty and staff as the best all-around twelfth-grade student.

“I feel that the thing that makes this award so unique is the fact that it is not one that you apply for so I would just say to get involved and do your best in all areas.”

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