ASHLAND — Elks Sports Day honoree Steve Gilmore is mostly perceived in maroon and white because his educational career, from teacher and coach to administrator, has been with Ashland schools.
But in his high school playing days, Gilmore wore the Holy Family blue-andwhite.
He is only the second Sports Day honoree, in 38 years, with Irish ties — the other being Holy Family basketball great Fred Simpson in 2004. Simpson was a scoring machine, piling up 2,058 points, and was one of the first players to effectively use the jump shot in the early 1950s. He went on to play for NCAA tournament teams Marshall and Morehead, a rare college feat that’s probably not been equaled.
Gilmore was another big scorer in his day, vying for the area scoring title his senior year of 1961, and he also played four years in college for Rio Grande, where as a freshman JV player once scored 47 points in a single game.
But Gilmore and Simpson aren’t the only Holy Family players worthy of recognition. There were a lot of great athletes over the years, including Steve’s older brother Bob and Fred’s younger brother Tim.
Of course, there’s a long line of Brislins, Laynes and Stewarts, Bradleys and Sereys that made great impacts over the years, too.
One of the best of the Irish family? That would be J.D. Browne, who once scored 56 points in a basketball game that would still stand as a city record. And basketball wasn’t even his best sport. Browne was a terrific left-handed pitcher who led Ashland Post 76 to the American Legion state finals in 1961. He went on to pitch for Duke and he also played basketball for the Blue Devils as a freshman, where one of his teammates was Jeff Mullins.
Steve’s big brother, Bob, was an outstanding basketball and baseball player. He guided the Irish to their first 64th District basketball championship in 1958 and owns one of the greatest individual feats in area history. He belted three home runs in one inning in a 24-2 victory over Greenup in 1957. You read that correctly, he did it in one inning.
Holy Family scored 17 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning but only one of Gilmore’s deep flies actually went over a fence. That was in right field, where the only fence stood on the Fairview High School field where the game was played. He legged out the other two home runs after socking them a long way. His home runs went to right, left and center.
Donnie Appledorn was another great one. He was the winning pitcher the first time Holy Family defeated Ashland in any sport, 7-3 in the 1950 baseball season opener. Ashland avenged the loss in the district tournament finals, defeating Appledorn and the Irish 7-6 in nine innings on Charley “Chalkeye” Cornette’s triple. Appledorn went on to play at UK.
Brothers Dan and Jim Stephenson were outstanding athletes as well. Dan’s 26 points helped the 1958 team defeat Booker T. Washington in the 64th District finals. BTW had eliminated Ashland the day before in a memorable area upset. Dan went to West Point where injuries kept him from playing but he retired as a Colonel in the U.S. Army.
Jim had a heart problem that kept him from playing until his junior year but he led the Irish in scoring and rebounding as a senior and went on to play in college for Tampa.
Another memorable Holy Family player was Ted “Tiny” Esders who, as a junior, was part of the infamous “clock stoppage game” against Ashland — the eventual state runnerup — in the opening round of the AIT game in 1962. “Clock stoppage game” is at least how the Irish faithful remember it, where time literally, uh, stood still.
Jack Gossett played both basketball and baseball at Holy Family and also coached the Irish. He went on to Rio Grande where he played with legendary scoring machine Bevo Francis. He was Steve Gilmore’s high school coach and was instrumental in helping his big scorer sign with Rio Grande.
Gossett coached one more season in 1962 at Holy Family. He died an early death.
Holy Family, behind Dave Brislin and Fred Stapleton, reached the 16th Region championship game in 1971 where the Irish fell to Ashland, 66-58 . That same year, the Irish stunned the Tomcats, 53-50, in the AIT— a huge victory in Holy Family history.
Holy Family’s 1979 and 1980 basketball teams were both outstanding. The Irish won the 64th District title in 1980 — snapping a long Ashland win streak against 16th Region teams — but the Tomcats avenged the loss in the 16th Region championship game the next week.
Art McCullough, who went on to be a big scorer at Youngstown State, was a star from that team along with David Layne — one of a long line of brothers with basketball in their blood.
There are many others who I’m sure I’ve missed. Holy Family’s heritage is rich with athletic talent. The Irish have enough for their own Hall of Fame.
Also notable was Maynard Thomas, who played basketball in the late 1960s and was the only black player in school history. He is also the father of Marty Thomas, who happens to be Ashland’s all-time scoring leader.
Another performance worth noting came in 1974 when Holy Family freshman Jim Harkins, who would transfer to Ashland in the summer, defeated the Tomcats 4-3 in 10 innings in the district tournament opener.
He struck out 13 in the complete game. Harkins outdueled Ashland’s Bill Hammond, who had a 1-0 nine-inning decision over Harkins and the Irish in the regular season.
Harkins came back two days later and faced Boyd County in the district finals but lost 10-7. He threw 153 pitches.
On that same day, Bill Carroll announced he was leaving as Holy Family’s basketball coach after eight seasons and a 154-109 record.
One more individual worth mentioning is Joe Hood, who played basketball and baseball for the Irish in 1960. Hood wasn’t the greatest athlete (sorry Joe) but he was in on the ground floor of Ashland’s first Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion teams. He went on to UK and became a manager for Coach Adolph Rupp, was an Airborne, Ranger, Green Beret infantry officer who served in Vietnam and became a highly respected federal judge for the U.S. District court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Not too shabby. Irish eyes in Ashland have plenty of reasons to smile. MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.