By BILL COLLMER, Sun Senior Sports Writer
AVOCA — Legendary 1970’s Avoca Basketball player Neil Kromer will be inducted into the Section Five Hall of Fame Saturday (Nov. 4) at the RIT inn and Conference Center.
Kromer’s junior season in 1970 he helped lead Avoca to its first Sectional Championship in School history (he is #13 in the photo above).
“One of my fondest memories of the 1970 championship team were with the teammates I played with and with our coaching staff. To this day I have friendships with many of our teammates,” Kromer said. “When we get together, we reminisce beating Canisteo at home (to avenge their only loss) to a full house. In fact, they locked down the school and had to turn people away.
“Also, the semifinal win over Avon and the championship victory over Elba both games at the Rochester War Memorial. When we returned to Avoca later that day, the reception that we received was amazing!” Kromer added.
Following Avoca’s 75-64 Championship victory over Elba in 1970 The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle interviewed Avoca Coach Marv Skillman.
“They were all unselfish,” said Skillman, referencing to his charges who swept past Scio, North Rose, and Avon before toppling Elba in the class C Final at the War Memorial. “They were easy to coach, took criticism well. Nobody seemed to care who did the scoring, as long as the job was done, and we came out on top. I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with these young men. They were the near-perfect example of what can be gained through desire and team play.
“Throughout the entire 1969-70 season, the results were more than any coach could ask. the team play was truly outstanding, as can be seen in checking the scoring, assists etcetera,” Skillman added.
At the end of the championship season, the stats proved how balanced they were. Lesperance led the team with 15.6 PPG, Terry Ostrander averaged 15.3 PPG, John McRae averaged 13.9 PPG, Neil Kromer averaged 11.4 PPG and Dave Hopkins averaged 8.3 PPG.
In a 92-59 win over Savona, they had six players finish in double figures. In a 93-68 win over Jasper, they had five players in double figures. In the Sectional finals win over Elba, Lesperance finished with 20, Ostrander with 20, McRae with 19 and Hopkins with 9.
The following season, with 4-of-5 starters graduated, Kromer returned to shoulder the load and boy did he. As the only returning starter he averaged 25.3 points a game and scored a then-school record 48 points in a game at Alfred-Almond. That record stood until it was later broken by Section V Hall of Famer Chris Sullivan in 1989-90.
When Alfred-Almond visited Avoca later that season, Kromer scored 28 points and grabbed 28 rebounds. He still shares a record with Sullivan of 19 field goals made in a game during the 1970-71 season (Sullivan broke seven of Neil’s records). Kromer was selected to the Class C All-Tournament team in 1970, he cored just under 1,000 points for his career, scored 40 points in his final game in an Avoca uniform in a sectional loss to Mt. Morris. His junior and senior year combined. Avoca went 34-6 after a 6-13 record in 1969, his sophomore year.
“Of course, the following year our team goal was to repeat as county and sectional champs. But a very good Arkport team of White, Dunham, Knowles, Foskey, Stearns and others had different plans,” Kromer said. “Our 1971 ball club was a good team but lacked the overall experience of the 1970 championship team. I believe they seeded sectionals differently back then because our first game was against a good Naples team led by senior David Miller who also had a 48 points game that season.”
Neil would attend Eisenhower College and would leave his mark and then some.
“Eisenhower was a new liberal arts college with young student athletes playing a mixed bag basketball schedule. My freshman year we played some community colleges, some JV teams, and some varsity teams. The schedule changed to all varsity teams the following year and we joined the PCAC-Private College Athletic Conference. Our head coach, Fred Bleiler, was great and was a classmate of Coach Skillman when both were at Ithaca College,” Kromer said.
Neil could do it all on the basketball court. Neil had the ability to control the game on the offensive end of the court, where he knew how to score better than anyone ever at the Eisenhower College. As well as being an offensive threat Neil could dominate the tempo of the game playing defense. Neil was a triple threat on defense he could block shots, grab rebounds and create steals in order to help his team win. Neil was a true leader, being named captain four consecutive years as well as being named MVP. He is the All-Time leading scorer at Eisenhower a record that will never be broken. Scored 40 or more points three times while playing at Eisenhower College.
One Luxury at Eisenhower college was getting to play with his old High School teammate Steve Lesperance.
“Playing with Steve Lesperance in college was awesome. Steve was not only a great teammate but also a close friend. We were “best man” at each other’s wedding,” Kromer said. “On the court Steve was the consummate point guard. He directed our ball club at both ends of the court, got others involved (he was the career record holder in assists), and most of all was a threat to score from the perimeter or by driving to the basket.”
Neil is the only player in the history of the Eisenhower College to be named an NAIA All-American. As well as being an All-American, Neil was an All-Conference Player in the Private College Athletic Conference from 1972 to 1974. He had one of the most successful athletic careers in Eisenhower College history and his statistics are among the best in the history of RIT.
Kromer was a Volunteer Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach for 21 seasons (1997 to 2018) at RIT under Coach Bob McVean. A 2006 inductee into the RIT Athletics Hall of Fame, Kromer was an operations manager at RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies. He also served as an assistant under McVean at Eisenhower College from 1978-1983. From 1983-1997 he served as Assistant Athletic Director at RIT
“Neil was Greatly respected in the RIT Athletic Dept. and institution as a whole. Invaluable on the bench and in practice. A great basketball mind, Players loved him and respected him while in school and later as alumni,” RIT Coach Bob McVean said.
Kromer enjoyed coaching at college.
“My years at Eisenhower and at RIT as an assistant coach we’re very enjoyable. At Ike, I was part of a coaching staff that saw a program win only two games my senior year to team that had an above 500 record with a new coach – Bob McVean – just a couple years later,” Kromer said. “Bob was not only an outstanding coach, but also a good recruiter. His teams primarily contained local (Section Five) talent. Later on at RIT I was a volunteer assistant coach for Bob and the RIT Tigers. Having 599 college career wins to date, the man knows what he is doing. And he relies on input from his assistant coaches for both practices and games.
“For 15 out of 16 years RIT was involved in post season play including 2 ECAC Championships and an NCAA “Sweet Sixteen “appearance. One of my favorite memories of coaching were working closely with the players on offensive skills and on having some new players (freshmen) each year to blend in with our returning players. I also enjoyed working with some assistant coaches both at Eisenhower and at RIT. Some good long-term friendships developed as a result,” Kromer added.
Kromer was very surprised to get the news of his Hall of Fame induction, he never thought this day would come. Mike Wright from Section Five and a fellow Avoca Graduate stopped by Kromer’s home to give him the good news.
“Mike stopped by one morning to share the news. It was a complete surprise and very appreciated! I had pretty much considered my basketball days were over when I retired from RIT in 2019. To hear this news from a fellow Avoca player made it that much more special. And if I remember correctly, Mike was a team manager when I played varsity basketball at Avoca,” Kromer added.
Kromer will join his Coach Marv Skillman and Chris Sullivan as the only members in the Hall of Fame from Avoca Central School.
“I am about to enter the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame and join two outstanding members in Coach Skillman and Chris Sullivan. The best boys’ basketball coach and the best player Avoca ever had. The best word that I can use to describe Coach Skillman is “respect.” As one of his players, you respected your opponent, the game officials, your teammates, your coaches, and the game of basketball,” Kromer said. “As for Chris, I was fortunate enough to be in the stands at Glens Falls when Avoca won their first state championship. Chris was a great inside/outside ball player both in high school and at St. John Fisher College. You do not get to be the impact player that Chris was without a lot of hard work and dedication. Chris put in the time and is well deserving of all the accolades he has received.”
Kromer has three children: Kellie, Eric, and Katie. Kellie is a 2000 graduate of Keuka College with a degree in occupational therapy. Eric graduated from RIT in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Katie is a 2005 graduate of RIT, earning her bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography.
Neil Kromer holds these records at Eisenhower College where they will never be broken:
Total Points: 1,675
Career Average: 18.8 PPG
Free Throw Percentage: 80%
Field goal attempts in a season: 375
Made Field goals in a season: 185
Field goals made in a single game: 17 (twice)
Career Blocked shots:184
Most blocked shots in a season: 56
Most points in a game: 40 (Twice)