One late Buford teen’s capacity to love has left a lasting legacy. James “Deano” Kilgore loved his family, friends, community and the Buford Wolves. He had a love for life, always pushing himself to achieve success.

Deano was raised by Jimmy and Jean Kilgore in Buford during the 1960s and 1970s. He had endless amounts of energy and determination, according to his mother. He channeled those qualities into athletics, rebuilding an Oldsmobile 442 car and in taking care of his 1,200-pound bull.

Allison Wiley Duval, Deano’s high school sweetheart, said he could come across as shy, but once he knew someone, he would open up. 

“(Deano was) very protective of me, his close friends and mostly his mama,” Allison said.

Baby blue was Deano’s favorite color and when it came time to take Allison to the Buford High School Sweetheart Dance, he insisted that her corsage had to have baby blue roses. His mother worked for Buford Florist at the time and was tasked with making Allison’s corsage. 

“We tried to tell him there was no such thing (as baby blue roses) but to get him, Mama Jean fixed one with artificial flowers,” Allison said. “He was so happy, hollering, ‘I told y’all!’ until Mama Jean said, ‘You need to look at them closer.’”

Deano’s capacity for love certainly extended to sports, especially when representing BHS.

“(Deano) stood out because of his love for Buford, his toughness, commitment and his competitive nature,” said Tony Wolfe, BHS athletic director. 

For four years, Deano played a significant role in athletics at Buford High School and was one of the few athletes to have won a state championship in two different sports. He was a catcher for the 1977 Class B State Championship baseball team and a linebacker/kicker on the 1978 Class A State Championship football team.

In addition to two state championship titles, Deano received numerous awards during his athletic career. In football, his accomplishments included being named the 1978 Class A Lineman of the Year, 1978 Gwinnett County Linebacker of the Year, All-State and team captain. He kicked the game-winning extra point in the 1978 Class A State Championship game against Charlton County, giving Buford its first ever state championship in football. He ended his senior season with 93 solo tackles.

In a speech given during the 2009 Buford High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony, then-athletic director Dexter Wood said, “Deano, though only weighing about 160 pounds, was generally regarded as one of the most aggressive, hard-nosed football players ever to play at Buford.”

Baseball was Deano’s favorite sport, and he began playing at just 5 years old. He was the starting catcher all four years of his high school career. Deano’s baseball accomplishments included a career .350 batting average and participation in the 1974 Dixie Majors World Series.

“I had the opportunity to compete against Deano in baseball in 1977 and remember him as a fierce competitor who would do whatever it took to win,” Wolfe said.

The Gwinnett Daily Post named Deano the 1978-1979 Athlete of the Year after he received 205 votes with the next closest contender, South Gwinnett’s Kay Hayes, receiving just 165 votes.

Deano graduated from Buford High School in spring 1979. After graduation, he went to work for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Months later, Deano’s life would be cut short. He was driving down Bethesda School Road on Dec. 21, 1979, with two friends in his dark gray Oldsmobile 442 when he lost control of the car and crashed into a tree. The accident claimed his life, while his friends, Daniel Crawford, 19, and Johnny Lee Cantrell, 17, survived the crash.

“(Deano’s death) devastated our small town,” Allison said. “He was a loved athlete and person.” 

The community has ensured his memory and athletic accomplishments will be honored for generations to come — in 2009, Deano was inducted into the Buford High School Hall of Fame. Since the mid-2000s, the BHS Athletic Department has presented an annual award in Deano’s name to a football player, a boys basketball player and a baseball player. 

“The Deano Kilgore Award is one of the most prominent awards we give in all of our athletic programs,” Wolfe said. “This award is presented to a student-athlete who represents the same qualities of Deano Kilgore. We are still honored all these years later to remember Deano and to honor others through this award.”  

Mama Jean loves seeing who receives the award each year. She is still a staple at Buford sporting events, especially home football games. She has a spot reserved just for her in the home side stands and is there whether it is hot or freezing cold. Many think this is her own special way to honor the memory of her son. 

FEATURED PHOTO: This photo was originally published in the Gwinnett Daily Post with the caption, “Spartan Barry Kingsley scores tying run in first game. Buford catcher Deano Kilgore waits for late throw.” The date this photo was originally published is unknown. Photo by Art Bowman.

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