Neil Crane is a Hall of Famer.
This morning, along with a throng of others, Crane of Iola was inducted into The College of Emporia Athletic Hall of Fame.
Crane was a three-sport athlete coming out of Gridley High School, but was only a two-sport athlete at Butler County Community College — it didn’t have baseball.
“Going to The College of Emporia allowed me the opportunity to compete in all three sports — football, basketball and baseball — again. It’s what I wanted to do,” Crane said.
Compete he did for two years for the Fighting Presbies. After graduation he began his coaching at high schools in Kansas, moved to the community college level and then came another “great opportunity” at “The C of E.”
Today following a breakfast, Crane and his younger brother, Rex Crane of Gridley, were among a long list of athletes, coaches and others inducted into The College of Emporia’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony was part of the C of E reunion in Overland Park.
How can that be since The College of Emporia closed its doors in 1974?
“An alumni group was formed because The C of E means so much to those of us who attended the college that it is important to us to keep the memories going. Plus we contribute money to scholarship funds for The C of E alumni to be given to students,” Crane said.
Crane and his wife, Roberta, are both alumni of The C of E. He said the two met at Butler County Community College in El Dorado and were married their senior year at Emporia.
“Every two years we have a reunion. The memories in my heart and mind are so vibrant for those days as an athlete and a coach.”
Crane said it’s an honor to be on the list of athletes, which includes The C of E’s championship teams.
“As a young athlete, you think about doing well in a sport and being named to a hall of fame. I never thought that would happen since for whatever reason the college never had an athletic hall of fame,” the 69-year-old Crane said.
Crane is one of two former College of Emporia athletes who participated in three sports. He said the other was Herman Rathman, who signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 1962.
Crane also is a rarity in that he played three sports at The C of E and came back to coach all three sports.
Crane graduated from Gridley High School in 1958. He excelled in football, baseball and basketball in high school. He went to Butler County, playing football and basketball, then came the scholarship offer from College of Emporia.
“No, there were no family ties to the college. Bob Johnson, who was the basketball coach at C of E, was a big reason I went there, plus the fact I could compete in all three sports. Most colleges wanted you to specialize in one sport. I loved all three but Coach Johnson would become a big influence in my life,” Crane said.
Crane was at The College of Emporia 1960-62. He said as a senior he was the captain of the football and basketball teams. He was a catcher on the baseball team.
“I’d play linebacker on Saturday afternoon and Monday night start for the basketball team. We played all of our games at White Auditorium,” Crane said. “I was just a good athlete and loved to compete.”
The College of Emporia was founded in 1882 and was associated with the Presbyterian church. The college officially closed in 1974.
Football was established in the late 1890s. The College of Emporia was a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). It won 14 conference football champion-ships over the 70 years of competition.
“The college is rich in traditions, both academic and athletic. I was fortunate to have great coaches while I was there. I’m the only one who was on a KCAC championship basketball team as a player and then coach The C of E to a KCAC basketball championship,” Crane said.
After graduating, Crane coached football and basketball in the high school ranks at Ransom and Wakeeney.
In 1967, The College of Emporia presented another opportunity to Crane. He returned to Emporia to be defensive coordinator in football, assistant basketball coach under Bob Johnson and head baseball coach.
“I wanted to coach at the college level. Bob Johnson gave me an opportunity. He left after my first year back and went to coach at Pittsburg State. I coached the only undefeated C of E baseball team in KCAC play in 1968. We were two-time conference champions and made the NAIA playoffs. I’m pretty proud of that,” Crane said.
Crane said he coached his brother Rex at C of E for two years in football and baseball.
After two years as a coach at Emporia, Crane moved to the community college ranks.
He spent the next seven years coaching all three sports at Highland Community College. He was the first head baseball coach at HCC, as well as defensive coordinator in football, head basketball coach and athletic director.
In 1974-75, Crane said he took the year away from coaching. He sold real estate in Arkansas with his brother.
“In 1975, the Allen County head basketball job came open. Hugh Haire and Bill Spencer were great in bringing me to Iola. I’ve been influenced by a lot of good coaches along the way — Bob Johnson, Bill Schnebel in football and Ron Ebberts in baseball at C of E — and Roger Craft at Butler and Hugh Haire,” Crane said.
Crane was head men’s basketball coach at Allen County for 21 years. He said he enjoyed coaching football and baseball but to stay in football coaching “back then money was tight for equipment so since I really love the game of basketball I went that direction. I’ve never regretted it.”
Crane was 420-221 in 23 years of junior college basketball coaching.
Roberta, who was an elementary teacher in Iola all those years also, and Neil are both retired. He said they’ve enjoyed just traveling around and doing “what we want to and enjoying our children and our grandchildren.”
Neil Crane is a Hall of Famer.