Written by: Julia R. Rowland
“He competed athletically, worked very hard academically, and made an impact on campus as a person,” said Adam Stockwell, head coach of the Hamilton College men’s basketball program.
Kena Gilmour epitomized the Division III experience; excelling on the court, in the classroom, and making an immeasurable impact on campus. From 2016-2020, Gilmour was a four-year standout at Hamilton College under Coach Stockwell.
Hamilton College is a small liberal arts school that prides itself on its open curriculum in conjunction with its high level academics and athletics, the school competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
During his time in the buff and blue, Gilmour competed in 108 career games, starting in the final 84 of those contests. The six-foot four guard out of New Paltz, New York amassed 1,935 career points, 615 rebounds, 216 assists, and shot an impressive 46.7% from the field.
Gilmour’s athletic feats were met with a slew of accolades. He was named an All American and Academic All American. He was also a 4-time All-NESCAC honoree, NESCAC Rookie of the Year, and NESCAC Player of the Year during his junior campaign.
But all of the incredible statistics and numerous awards could never surmount to the kind of person Kena Gilmour really is, or the impact that he had on those around him during his time at Hamilton College. As his former coach noted, his influence extended far beyond the game. Basketball was just one small part of Kena Gilmour.
“His banner hangs from the rafters as an All-American, but the faculty, staff, and much of the student body, will always remember him as a person who cares deeply for the well-being and dignity of others,” said current Hamilton professor and Gilmour’s former mentor, Todd Franklin.
Franklin was spot on. Gilmour affected the Hamilton community in such a profound way. He left behind a legacy.
A black male at a predominantly white institution, Gilmour was responsible for the creation of the Athletes of Color Initiative at Hamilton.
“As a Black athlete, I felt there were particular and acute challenges that myself and others of similar identity markers faced that went unaddressed,” said Gilmour.
“Myself and two other athletes, Sayo Denloye and Kayla Glemaud, decided we wanted to create a space and provide resources for those who faced such challenges” he added. Between the three Hamilton athletes, they were able to grow their network and create large groups at fellow NESCAC institutions as well.
Gilmour’s quest for personal growth while in college was met at a difficult crossroads; he needed to acknowledge his true self; “After spending nearly 20 years of my life holding my breath, I wanted and deserved to breathe,” Gilmour said eloquently. Gilmour was ready to come out as a gay man to his teammates, the Hamilton community, and the world around him.
Coming out is an extremely scary thing to do in general. However, Gilmour also had to face his teammates in a men’s college locker room; a place filled with masculinity, oftentimes toxic. Very few men in the history of sports have felt comfortable enough to do this
Gilmour was one of the firsts.
“He was the first gay teammate I had,” said Ty Washington, a member of the team under Gilmour’s leadership for three seasons. “Seeing how good he was [on the court] made me rethink my beliefs about the relationship between masculinity, sexuality, and sport,” Washington added.
Washington was in good company. Many of Kena’s teammates, along with others at the school, had to challenge their perception of what made someone a phenomenal athlete and competitor.
Kena coming out “did make me more aware of the traditional heterosexual and hyper-masculine locker-room dynamics,” said friend and former team captain for the Continental, Joe Pucci.
Pucci was one of the first upperclassmen Gilmour entrusted with the truth about his sexuality. Pucci did not take that trust lightly. He worked to create a comfortable environment for Gilmour and the others. “I tried to be authentic and vulnerable myself. If you embody authenticity and vulnerability, others will be themselves,” noted Pucci.
Pucci was a senior when Gilmour was a sophomore. They both had the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills by learning under Coach Stockwell. He worked hard to create a constant safe space for all his players.
“Apart from my parents, Coach Stockwell was the first person who I came out to,” said Gilmour when reflecting on his coming out process. “He was deeply supportive and I could feel the care and thought he put into making space for me,” Gilmour added fondly.
That was exactly what Stockwell was trying to do for the young freshman. “[I was] trying to make sure language reinforced being an inclusive and welcoming environment at all times” he said.
Stockwell helped to cultivate this inclusive environment, and so with the foundation set, Gilmour was free to build upon it.
“I truly felt empowered and supported, and that my being vulnerable broke down a wall that stood between all of us” said a prideful Gilmour. This sense of empowerment and support continued to allow Gilmour, and his teammates, to grow and flourish on the court and and beyond.
“[Coming out] changed everything on and off the court. I felt liberated in a way that’s hard to describe” uttered Gilmour. After his freshman season, the newly extricated Gilmour started and played in every game, and his ability to lead by example shone through.
On the court, “Kena set the standard for young guys. He was obviously the best player in the country. He was the strongest, fastest, most skilled, and most knowledgeable player on the team” said Washington, recounting his three time team leader and captain. “These qualities, combined with his humility and work ethic, caused guys to respect him greatly and want to be led by him,” added Gilmour’s former teammate.
“Off the court, Kena’s leadership was a calm, soothing presence where teammates felt comfortable talking with him,” said his former coach Stockwell. This presence was felt by all on the Hamilton campus. Gilmour exuded compassion in perfect combination with charisma.
People were drawn to him.
This made Gilmour the ideal role model for some of the groups he represented, the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
“Being a role model to different communities is an honor I will appreciate for the entirety of my life,” noted Gilmour.
Though Gilmour values his role, “becoming a role model was not at all unilateral, and I was supported, cared for, and given confidence by so many people, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks,” he concluded.
Gilmour spent the first 20 years of his life trying to hide who he was, softening his mannerisms and his spirit. Once he came out, this completely changed. He was full of life and full of his true spirit.
Gilmour notes he wished for moments where he was not as hyper-visible on campus, but he ultimately knows that his role in the Hamilton community was one he was fortunate to have.
It was this visibility that earned him the first ever LGBTQ DIII Award, presented to Gilmour in 2020 after his collegiate career came to a close. The award “honors the academic achievements, athletics excellence and service/leadership of LGBTQ student-athletes.”
There certainly was no greater representative for such an impactful award in its inaugural year.
It is evident that during Gilmour’s time at Hamilton, the young man connected with far more people than he might have imagined. His ultimate accomplishment was the personal growth he gained and how his quest for realism inspired those around him.