By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
Told by legendary Ohio University basketball coach Jim Snyder that he was too short for the Bobcats’ basketball team, Eddie Kropf went out for the soccer team as a senior.
Soccer was a sport that Kropf had never played.
“I didn’t even know the rules,” Kropf said.
But the 5-foot-11 Kropf was made the team’s starting goalie. Surprisingly, he posted four shutouts in 10 games, still a record at Ohio University. After the season, he was named All-American, along with one other Bobcat.
“I had handled the basketball all my life,” Kropf explains. “My reactions were tremendous.”
Kropf, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation at the Conneaut Human Resources Center on April 15, started playing basketball at Assumption School in a church league in the eighth grade. His father erected a basketball hoop in his back yard on North Myers Road in Geneva Township.
“All the neighborhood kids played, Gale Alderman, who was on the Spencer team of 1958 and 1959 with me, and Jim Pevec. A lot of times I played by myself.”
By the time he was a sophomore, Kropf was starting on the Wildcats team coached by legendary Al Bailey, a member of the inaugural ACBF Hall of Fame class.
Bailey was known as a firebrand.
“He got excited a lot,” Kropf said of Bailey. “But it didn’t bother the players at all.”
According to Kropf, Bailey played a give-and-go offense.
“That was his whole offense,” Kropf said. “We had to pass the ball off and go to the basket. If that didn’t work, we’d come around and do it again. He ran strict man-for-man defense.”
Spencer had an excellent team, led by Lyle Pepin, one year ahead of Kropf, inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame in 2013.
Other starters on that team included Alderman, Ron Randa and Pete Balint, with John Weaver coming off the bench.
Bill Peters, a reserve on that team and a good friend of Kropf’s, researched Kropf’s entire basketball career at Spencer. The Wildcats went 21-2 his sophomore year, losing only to Jefferson (a loss they would avenge later in the season) and to Columbiana in the districts. They did it mostly with defense, with most of the games in the 40s, some of them in the 30s. Four times, they made it to the 60-point level, the biggest a 66-39 defeat of Edgewood.
As a sophomore in that 1957-58 team, Kropf usually scored in the single digits, though he did post 20 against Perry that year. His average for the season was 5.7.
That great season was followed by an even better one. In 1958-59, the Wildcats won their first 22 games, some of them by scores like 73-29 (over Kingsville), 80-31, 60-24, 67-34, 78-22, 69-15, 69-26, 77-35 and 65-25.
Spencer was finally stopped in the districts, falling to Northwestern, a team led by future major-league pitcher Dean Chance, 50-43.
“That was a very close game,” Kropf said. “We didn’t allow very many points all season long. Opponents only averaged 23 points a game against us.”
Kropf averaged 7.6 points a game that year as a junior on a team dominated by seniors. After the season, he was selected to the Western Reserve League All-Stars first team as a playmaking guard.
It figured to be a tough season in 1958-59 with all the starters except Kropf graduating and it was. Jim Pevec, Dave Tirabasso, Steve Gibbs and Peters replaced the graduated seniors.
The Wildcats started with a 56-45 victory over Kingsville, a game Kropf scored 44 points in, a school record that still stands (and will continue to stand since Spencer consolidated with Geneva in 1961).
“I would get the ball and drive to the basket most of the time, or stop and shoot a jumper, or stop and feed Tirabasso or the other players going to the basket,” Kropf recalls. “I handled the ball like (Kyrie) Irving does for the Cavaliers.”
Scoring 44 of his team’s 56 points was a remarkable feat, but one not appreciated by Bailey.
“He pulled me by the pants and said, ‘There are other players on this team,’” Kropf said. “That did get me upset. He was a hothead.”
In that game, Kropf hit 12 of 16 field-goal attempts to go with 16 free throws.
Bailey might have been better served to let Kropf shoot more. Spencer went just 6-11 that year and lost its first game of the sectionals to Williamsfield.
Kropf scored 17.9 points per game that season and was selected to the All-WRL team. He also won the accolades of his coach.
“He said in the yearbook that I was his most coachable player,” Kropf said of Bailey. “I would listen to what he had to say.”
While in high school at Spencer, Kropf won the 1960 Kiwanis Club Citizenship Award. He was a member of the Key Club, Thespian Club, Buckeye Boys State, Homecoming King and was voted Most Popular Senior Boy. He earned three letters in basketball, track and football and served as co-captain of the football team.
In track, he won the mile run and placed third in the half-mile as a senior. After his senior year, he was selected to the first-team All-Northeastern Ohio squad and honorable-mention status in the all-state voting.
After his selection to the first team All-Western Reserve League team his senior year, Kropf won a basketball scholarship to Ohio University and played as sixth man as a freshman. But when he went out for the team as a sophomore and junior, Snyder cut him. That’s when he decided to play soccer.
After graduation, Kropf got a job as in industrial education teacher at Wickliffe High School, where he taught woodworking, electronics and drafting for 32 years, before retiring in 1996. He also found work as a carpenter in the summers.
“I was very handy,” he said. “My uncle and I were in the carpenter’s union. We built houses and things like that for 10 years. We helped build the Watergate Towers in Euclid, off Lakeshore Drive, and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant.
Kropf met his wife, Eleanor, who hails from Lakewood, while dancing at Capelli’s Dance Hall in Wickliffe, when he was 25.
“I wasn’t much of a dancer,” he admitted. “Mostly, we did the waltz and jitterbug. After three dates at Capelli’s, we were going steady.”
The Kropfs have been married for 46 years and have three children, Debra (“Debbie”), David and Jeffrey. All three are college graduates.
Debbie works at Progressive Insurance off Route 271. David is employed by Charles Schwab, working with 401-Ks. Jeffrey is a chemist who got his master’s at Penn State, his doctorate at the University of Michigan and also did two years of post-doctorate work.
Jeffrey is currently employed by the Gilead Company in Connecticut.
“He’s working on a cure for arthritis,” Kropf said.
Eddie played basketball, volleyball and softball in a church league in Euclid (Epiphany) until he was 45.
“My wife and kids would come to the games,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
He took the game of golf up at age 37 and is in a league with his old pal, Pepin, at Ironwood in Hinckley.
“I’m still in the A division,” he said. “I have a handicap of nine.”
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.