ASHLAND — Leon Hart came to Ashland 10 years ago not only to be vested in a high school football program but a community.
His retirement on Thursday will leave a void in both areas.
Everybody knows Leon Hart the football coach. He guided the Tomcats’ program to 78 victories and nine playoff appearances in 10 seasons. Exciting victories over rivals Russell, Ironton and Johnson Central will be most remembered by the fans.
Two of his quarterbacks, Ian Holbrook and Sam Hunter, rewrote the Tomcat record books.
But he was far more than a football coach to the Ashland community.
A special education teacher in the school system, he made an impact on more students than football players in his 10 years here. Those special ed students absolutely adored Leon Hart. I saw it firsthand a few years ago when they had a birthday party for their then 60-year-old coach at Poage Elementary. They loved him not because he was the Tomcats’ football coach – one boy even asked him if he went to the game last Friday when Ashland beat Ironton – but because he sincerely loved them back.
He taught his football players not just about the game itself but life. They learned a lot from Leon Hart.
Ashland’s players participated in the Salvation Army bell ringing campaign and cleaned up yards during the city’s Repair Affair. They also worked the Special Olympics in the area and came to know their coaching staff not just as coaches but friends.
He leaves a legacy of coaching and service with his retirement.
Not surprisingly, Leon Hart is retiring not because he’s too old to do the job. The 62-year-old coach is retiring so he can spend more time with his aging parents, both 84 and living in Mansfield, Ohio. His father is ill and isn’t getting better. He also has grandchildren in Burlington, N.C. Neither place is exactly a hop, skip and a jump from Ashland.