Editor’s Note – The is the first in a series of four stories featuring the 2017 inductees into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame. The inductees will be honored, along with nearly 30 high school senior scholar-athletes, at a banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro. The public can reserve tickets for the event by calling 937-402-2522.
In the days when high school athletics were just getting started in Ohio, two Hillsboro youngsters traveled to the second state track meet ever held and accomplished something that no Hillsboro High School team has ever matched in any sport. The year was 1909 and with only two participants, Hillsboro finished state runner-up to Toledo Central.
The two boys were Ed Ayres and Harry Roads, and Ayres is among four inductees into the eighth Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame class.
The first state track meet had been held in 1908 at Dennison University and as fate would have it the second was being held at Ohio Wesleyan University before it moved to Ohio State University the following year.
“Harry Roads had a brother who was the captain of the Ohio Wesleyan track team,” said Chris Duckworth, Ayres’ grandson, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Peter Leake Ayres, built the Highland House in Hillsboro. “He and Ed found out through Harry’s brother, not the Hillsboro coach, about the state meet and they decided to go. They paid their own ways and barely had enough money to make it home on the train after consuming a dinner of bean soup and buying two newspapers.”
Ayres finished first in the pole vault and high school and second in the long jump. His height of 10-1 in the pole vault set a high school and collegiate Ohio record at the time, and was not far off the world record, according to Duckworth.
Roads won the discus and hammer throw, setting a new state record in the latter event.
“Grampy was always mad about that state track meet because he said if they would have let he and Harry enter more events they would have won it,” Duckworth said.
Both Ayres and Roads were seniors that year. Ayres went on to compete in other events against high schoolers and collegians that year and won numerous medals. He continued to compete until 1911, but gave it up to work and support his family.
Duckworth said his grandfather was also a boxer, and apparently quite good at it.
“He was sports-minded his whole life,” Duckworth said. “He was a lifelong Reds fan, boxing fan, went to the 1961 World Series – I don’t remember him being much of a football fan, but football had been banned at Hillsboro when he was in school – a serious croquet player, an expert marksman that held records and had a target range in the attic of his house, and enjoyed fishing.”
Later, Duckworth said that for years Ayres drove the Hillsboro basketball team to games in a limousine he owned and that the whole team could ride inside it.
In 1907 though, he started working at the W.R. Smith Drug, located in the 100 block of East Main Street in Hillsboro, and he worked there until he became ill in July of 1964. Born Feb. 3, 1891, Ayres died on Aug. 16, 1964.
His wife, Elsie, was a longtime local historian.
Ayres received his pharmacy license in 1914 and bought a share in the drug store. He purchased it outright in 1925 and kept the name the same for many years until finally renaming it the Ed B. Ayres Drug Company. The large mortar and pestle he placed in front of the business still stands in front of the location.
“He was always incredibly proud of his athletic accomplishments. It didn’t take much to get him to talk about it,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth said his grandfather was also very civic-minded, and deeply involved with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
“I’m sure he would have been enormously proud and grateful of being inducted into the hall of fame. He loved Hillsboro and he loved Highland County,” Duckworth said. “His roots were there, and they were very deep and wide. So I know this would have meant a great deal to him. He never ventured far from Hillsboro and never regretted it. He was a Hillsboro boy all the way through.”
Duckworth said that after the 1909 state meet, Ayres entered an invitational in Cincinnati that included high school and college track stars, he believes. Ayres high jumped 5-8.25, pole vaulted 9-6, and later cleared 9-11.
“Try that sometime with a wooden pole and no planting box. His pole did have a spike in its planting end, but I believe that sometimes he had to jump without it. Sprinters, of course, had no starting blocks and simply dug holes in the cinder track to launch themselves.”
Ayres was also a noted sprinter in the 100- and 200-yard dashes.
A few months ago Duckworth wrote these words in an email to The Times-Gazette:
“These two guys accomplished amazing feats, and I’m not saying this just because one was my grandfather. Harry Roads also was an incredible athlete. Roads, I believe, went on to attend and compete for OSU. My grandfather never went to college, despite being sought by a number of schools for both his academics (he graduated from HHS magna cum laude) and his athletics. Instead, he went to work at the W.R. Smith Drug Store full-time, ‘read’ pharmacy (I think that he may have been the last in Ohio to do this), passed his state board, and went on to raise a family and run a drug store. If I do say so, he was quite a man, and I loved being around him and listening to his stories.
“Both Roads and Ayres certainly deserve to be charter members of any Hillsboro High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Their feats never have been equaled, to my knowledge. But they were just boys who were doing it for fun — and probably to attract the attention of female classmates; Grampy was a bit of a Romeo for his time, as his diary reflects. Roads’ and Ayres’ accomplishments took place long ago, in a very different world. Like the Marshall basketball teams of the 1920s, Ayres and Roads put Hillsboro High School into the athletic big time in the state of Ohio.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.