J.C. Price legend Gilmore passes away

Salisbury’s Steve Gilmore, one of the legends of J.C. Price athletics and a member of the inaugural J.C. Price Hall of Fame class, passed away on Tuesday at 85.

Gilmore, who taught himself running-back moves by spinning around trees in the woods, starred for Price’s Red Devils in the segregated days of the mid-1940s as a halfback, linebacker and punter. He could run all day, and teammates claimed his punts sailed 60 yards.

He was best on defense.

“I was a ballhawk,” he said in an interview with the Post in 2006. “Wherever the ball went, I was there.”

In 1946, coach S.W. Lancaster’s Price Red Devils went 9-1-1 and allowed 32 points the entire season. Price won one outing 92-0 and crushed a touted Rock Hill, S.C., squad 58-0.

Gilmore was nominated by Lancaster and was chosen to represent J.C. Price in the first black Shrine Bowl in 1946, an epic event in Greensboro that pitted an all-star team from North Carolina’s black schools against Virginia’s black all-stars.

“It was beautiful,” Gilmore said. “We wore white jerseys with blue letters, and Memorial Stadium was packed that day.”

Gilmore ran the ball all week in practice, but when one of the North Carolina linemen was injured on the opening kickoff, Gilmore stepped in at guard. His dream had been to score touchdowns, but he held his own at guard. That historic game ended in a 12-12 tie.

College opportunities for black athletes were limited in 1946, and Gilmore did what most did. He went to work, got married and started a family. He worked for Southern Railway and Norfolk Southern 42 years before he retired.

Gilmore married his childhood sweetheart, Allie Lyerly, on Sept. 21, 1949. They raised eight children well. That led to 18 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

One of Gilmore’s grandchildren, North Rowan graduate Mitch Ellis, was one of the finest quarterbacks in Rowan history in the 1990s.

Gilmore was proud of his football playing days and called it the “best time of his life,” but he was much prouder of his large family.

“Every last one of the kids was no problem at all,” he said in that Post interview. “I never let myself brag until I got old, but we must’ve done some things right.”

Gilmore’s obituary is on Page 4A.

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