Booker Kilgore nurtured his love of sports and what would become a career when, as a young man, he played basketball at the YMCA in downtown Bakersfield. As a student, he played basketball at Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College. His love for sports continued after he finished school, as he coached, refereed, and mentored young athletes. He was a board member and umpire for the Junior Baseball Association for more than twenty years.
In late 1964, Booker learned that the Kern High School District would be opening West High School in the fall of 1965. He decided to do everything possible to become part of this new beginning at West High. Therefore, he applied and was hired as a custodian assigned to the gym. It did not take long for the coaching staff to appreciate Booker’s knowledge of all sports and competitive nature. Given the need and having the right person, the position of athletic trainer/equipment manager was created and assigned to Booker.
For over thirty years as a Viking, he worked tirelessly with dozens of coaches and thousands of young people in many sports. Booker was known as a man of integrity, dependability, loyalty, and compassion. His work ethic and love for the kids, coaches, and the school contributed to West High’s successful athletic program. He could be counted on for an easy smile and big laugh, as well as for keeping everyone in line.
In 1983, Booker received the Equipment Manager of the Year Award (now the Glenn Sharp Award) from the Athletic Equipment Managers Association (AEMA). He is the only high school equipment manager ever to win this award. In 1997, he was awarded the Danny O’Neil Memorial Award from the Kern County Officials Association. In 1999, the AEMA created the annual Booker Kilgore Award to honor a high school equipment manager who best exemplifies the character and service of Booker Kilgore.
Booker retired from the job he loved in 1997. Sadly, on February 12, 1999, he passed away after a one-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. In 2010, West High School honored him by naming its stadium the Booker Kilgore Stadium. An annual West High golf tournament, in his honor, raises funds to support a Viking male and female senior in pursuit of their dreams at the next level.
Booker was married to his wife, Opal, for 35½ years. If he were here today, he would say: “Awww, you turkey, I am honored and blessed to be part of this Viking celebration. Thank you all.”
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