Steve Gilmore never set out to be a hero in his hometown.
But he made it anyway with a journey that makes him as Ashland as anybody could ever be.
Gilmore grew up in the giant playground called Central Park, pitched in the first Little League and Babe Ruth games in town, played high school sports for the tiny Catholic school here and came home after college for what has been nearly 50 years of contributions as an educator, businessman and politician.
The 69-year-old Gilmore is still the superintendent of Ashland schools and there’s plenty remaining on the plate.
His work – not to mention the love for his hometown – didn’t go unnoticed.
On Saturday night, Gilmore was recognized as the 38th annual Elks Sports Day honoree during a banquet at the downtown lodge in front of family and friends. He was noticeably emotional while thanking so many in the room and others who influenced him.
“As I look around the room tonight I see so many heroes of mine,” said Gilmore. “The Lord has blessed me in so many ways.”
Four of his best friends — David Payne, Brian Salyer, Sonny Martin and Bob Leith — sung the praises of Gilmore’s contributions to Ashland through his professional endeavors in short speeches. They also got in a few good-natured jabs, all in fun, about the man they admire so much.
Payne, who considers Gilmore his best friend, was more the master of ceremonies to introduce the trio of speakers. But he took the time to speak about Gilmore as well.
Salyer, a former player for Gilmore from 1972-75, talked about the “Tomcat experience” that still impacts him today. Gilmore called Salyer “the son I never had.”
The storyteller Leith, a teammate and roommate of Gilmore’s at Rio Grande, was wildly entertaining while recanting several stories about their college days. Gilmore didn’t acknowledge his buddy’s recollection, saying only “Let’s just paint this with a broad brush. I don’t recall much of that.”
Leith is a history professor at Ohio Southern University who wasn’t short on detail when describing some of their antics.
Martin, the longtime Ashland city attorney, talked about the many progressive accomplishments Gilmore had while he served as city commissioner and mayor. “Steve is a go-to standup guy,” he said. “The lessons he learned on the ballfield he applied to his work as a city leader.”
Martin and Gilmore go back more than 60 years, all the way to when they were teammates on a Pony League team called Standard Oil. “When we got our first uniforms, I slept in mine,” Martin said.
Gilmore’s coach at Rio Grande College, 80-year-old Arthur Lanham, also came to the celebration.
“Steve was one of the first people I recruited to Rio Grande,” Lanham said. “I found out real quick Steve was going to be somebody I could depend on and know what to expect.”
While Gilmore’s 47-point outburst in a JV game against Cedarville College is well-chronicled, it was his defensive prowess where he shined the brightest, Lanham said. “That was his role to help this team.”
Gilmore took his place on the prestigious Sports Day Wall of Fame, nudging next to Gen. Chuck Anderson, last year’s honoree. The one common denominator for those on the wall is a desire to lead. Gilmore has shown that practically every working day with high-profiles jobs like the Ashland Tomcat boys basketball coach, the mayor of Ashland and the superintendent of Ashland schools.
He is probably the only person in town with keys to the city and the gymnasium.
They are all jobs in the fishbowl of Ashland with everybody knowing a better way.
But he has become a trusted friend even in the face of difficult decisions that naturally come with those kinds of jobs. Being a hero in your hometown can be a difficult proposition because everybody knows something about you. But if you make it, it can also be extremely rewarding.
“This is special, a moment in time,” he said.
Steve Gilmore reaped some of those rewards Saturday night.
Lanham, who spent the night at Steve and his wife Suzanne’s home on Saturday night, said he knew how today would go.
“We’re going to hug each other and he’s going to say, with all sincerity, ‘Coach, I love you.’ That means a lot to me.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.
Steve Gilmore never set out to be a hero in his hometown.
- Local Sports
THE WEEKLY CYCLE: Holding the key to upset city?
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Some days you are the windshield and some days you are the bug.
It is a saying that proved to be all too true for Rowan County on Friday night at the KHSAA Class 2A State Track and Field Championships at the University of Louisville’s Owsley Frazier Cardinal Park.
Fairview senior Kennedy Womack wasn’t her consistent self in Saturday morning’s state tennis semifinals at the University of Kentucky’s Hilary Boone Tennis Complex.
As a result, the top seed fell to Lexington Sayre sophomore Madeline Rolph 6-1, 6-0.
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With rain staying away, the KHSAA State Tennis Tournament got into full swing on Friday afternoon.
Semifinals and finals will be held today at the University of Kentucky Boone/Downing Tennis Complex for boys and girls singles competitions.
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Local track and field athletes are ready to try to carry region competition success onto the state stage.
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