Sierra “Cece” Sims was an exemplary and popular student at her Tennessee high school, but when the teen entered college, the stakes were higher and she could not keep up with the institution’s demands.
She turned to alcohol and even went to the extreme of faking her own kidnapping in an effort to exit her pressure-cooker existence. The young woman’s mother, Kathie, chose to share her daughter’s story on an upcoming segment of ABC-TV’s “20/20.”
As the daughter of Tommy Sims, who co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton’s song, “Change the World,” Cece had pretty big shoes to fill and it seemed she was well on her way to do so. She was a homecoming queen, an accomplished guitar player and a basketball star at her high school. As a matter of fact, Cece was being courted by quite a few top-notch colleges for her basketball skills.
Auburn University was one of the colleges that came knocking the hardest at Cece’s door. “I remember when my assistant coach came to me and said, ‘You have got to come watch this kid play,’” Nell Fortner, the former head coach of women’s basketball at Auburn University, told 20/20.
Cece answered Auburn’s knock and wound up with a full scholarship to the Alabama school, which was only 300 miles away from her home.
Trying to acclimate herself to the rigors of first-year college life was not an easy feat for Cece. In addition to her course, she also had to fulfill the practice demands of being a college basketball player.
“Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or Czech Republic or to Hawaii,” Fortner told 20/20. “They are going to get a great education tutoring. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at 5 in the morning, and they don’t get to bed ’til 11 at night.”
Cece could no longer play her beloved guitar because she just could not find the time.
Succumbing to the pressures of her newfound surroundings, the 18-year-old freshman began her slow descent into a dark place and secretly started binge drinking. “Because her energy and her personality was always so bubbly, nobody thought for one second there was a problem,” Fortner said.
One day, when she felt she could no longer cope with her schoolwork and athletic demands, Cece called home and told her mom she wanted to come home. Kathie instead urged her daughter to seek the help of her coach who was someone she could trust.
According to Fortner, Cece’s drinking was not evident because she always appeared to be on such a high with her vivacious personality. On one particular day, Cece called Fortner to tell her about a campus concert she attended. Fortner responded by stating, “I am glad you are enjoying it, but, remember, we have practice at 6 in the morning, so make sure you set your alarm,’” Fortner recalled. “She goes, ‘Oh yeah…I have got 5 alarms set.’”