CORBIN — Sports Editor’s note: The following is the fifth in a series of stories highlighting each of the Tri-County’s high school football stadiums and what makes each one special to their respective players, coaches and fan base. The series will be completed alphabetically.
By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
South Laurel’s Gilliam Field has aged well.
Granted, that’s due in part to several upgrades throughout the years like new grass and home bleachers.
The sign near the Cardinals’ locker room says the stadium was dedicated in 1974, which makes it one of the oldest facilities in the area. The stadium’s age doesn’t necessarily reflect the amount of history though.
Randy Leger, who’s a former Laurel County player, coach and current district-wide athletic director for Laurel County Schools (North Laurel and South Laurel) that has been in the school system for 30 years said he’s seen the good times and bad at both Laurel County and South Laurel.
“There’s been a lot of athletes come across that field and a lot of good things happened here,” Leger said. “It’s a field that has been used as a football field, soccer field and other things.
“I played there when it was Laurel County High School until I graduated in 1981, so I was there well before the split into North and South Laurel,” he added.
Leger said the biggest change at the field, other than the split into North and South Laurel, was the addition of Bermuda Grass.
Leger said as the school began to offer more sports than in the past it was important to have a field that could stand up to so much usage.
“When you think about the number of sports that are played there, you really have to have something that will hold up over time,” Leger said. “We have varsity soccer, middle school soccer and high school football that each use the field, so it gets a lot of wear and tear over the years.
“Even though it’s used so much though, it’s still one of the more beautiful fields in our area I think and our crew does a good job of taking care of it,” he added.
Leger recalled the first game the team played on the new grass and said it was the best possible way to break it in.
After not playing each other for several years, the rivalry between Corbin and South Laurel was renewed in 1998. Corbin picked up a 44-15 win the year before at their home field, but a year later, former South Laurel quarterback Neil Warren and the Cardinals picked up the program’s first-ever gridiron win over one of their biggest rivals.
“It was the first game we played on the new grass and we came away with a 35-20 win over Corbin, which was the first time any Laurel County school had ever beaten Corbin in a football game,” Leger said. “That was one of the biggest moments in the program, especially at that point.
“It was our first home game of the season and it got us on a good track for the remainder of the season,” he added. “South Laurel went to the third round of the playoffs that season and lost to Tates Creek, but we picked up first and second round wins over George Rogers Clark and Madison Central at home.”
With the new grass and bleachers going down as the biggest upgrades and the win over Corbin coming in as one of the top moments in Gilliam Field’s history, Leger said he also recalls one of the toughest moments as a coach. He said the first meeting between North and South Laurel was a bittersweet game to be a part of simply because the Cardinals were in essence playing against former teammates.
“When you think in reality, the kids that were on the North Laurel team were kids I had coached at the middle school level, so it was tough in a way,” Leger said. “You wanted to win the game, but a part of you felt like you were playing against family members on the other sideline.
“That North vs. South game is still a game that’s tough to some people because they have family at both places and even on both teams,” he added.
Leger said as time goes by he hopes to not only maintain the facility, but to continually improve Gilliam Field so that student athletes will be proud to call it home.
“We want our teams to be proud of their home facilities, so we have to keep it modern and make improvements over the years,” Leger said. “We just have to keep it looking great and give our athletes a great place to compete.”