Star of low-budget era earns a ticket to hall Catonsville's Kropfelder grew up playing in Canton, topped out at $35 a game

August 07, 1996|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

Nick Kropfelder was only a year out of Mount St. Joseph High when he received his first pay envelope as a professional soccer player. It contained all of $3.

Kropfelder and his Baltimore Soccer Club teammates were returning on the train after beating New York, 2-1. Kropfelder had scored both goals against Stan Chesney, the premier goalie of his time.

Tom Amhrein, the Baltimore Soccer Club owner, walked through the aisle handing out little brown envelopes. In the game star's was $3.

"Amhrein got hooked on that one," Kropfelder said, laughing. "I would have played for nothing."

In June, in a salute to his 45 years as a player, coach and referee, Kropfelder, a 73-year-old Catonsville resident, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. He joins Gene Ringsdorf, Millard Lang, Ray Kraft, Alfredda Iglehart and Vernon Reese as the only Baltimoreans in the shrine.

Kropfelder grew up in Canton, a soccer hotbed, "and just matriculated into kicking a ball." Times were tough in the 1930s, and soccer was the cheapest sport in town.

He was a World War II veteran, and married, when he enrolled at Loyola College under the G.I. Bill in 1947. He was Loyola's top scorer and led the team to the Mason-Dixon Conference championship, but that was to be his only year of college soccer.

The Mason-Dixon athletic directors banded against Loyola AD Lefty Reitz and pressured him into making Kropfelder ineligible. He was too good, they said. Anyway, he was playing professionally on Sundays, making $35 a game with the Baltimore Americans.

A center forward who today would be known as a striker, Kropfelder was invited to the final tryout for the U.S. Olympic team in 1948 in St. Louis, but wasn't chosen, in part because of a bum knee.

His greatest soccer moments? Playing for the Philadelphia Nationals with such greats as Benny McLaughlin and Walter Bahr, Kropfelder helped the team win three American League titles and led the league in scoring in 1950. He still never made more than $35 a game.

"I was on the 1950 team that beat England and once scored two goals against Canada," Kropfelder said. "We played Manchester United, Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow and Bern, Switzerland. All of that was a big deal."

It was a big deal, too -- "exhilarating," he said -- when he went to Oneonta for the Hall of Fame activities. They threw a parade for the 14 inductees and gave them rings, plaques and gold lifetime passes to soccer games just about anywhere.

"I must have autographed 100 programs," Kropfelder said, noting that the pleasure was his.

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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