By Ryan Clark
NEW YORK – Bill Kroth exits the elevator of the New Yorker hotel and makes his way to the lobby. Clad in his Xavier polo and jeans, he moves a little bit slower now, as his body is more focused on fighting the cancer than doing anything else.
He gets fatigued easily, and the medicine makes his memory fade. But he still remembers the important things: His children. His university. His team. As he sits in a plush chair in the hotel lobby, just a block away from Madison Square Garden, he reflects on his fandom, and how he came to this spot on a Friday afternoon.
“I’ve always been a fan,” he says. “I was a youth coach for a long while, and it was a hobby. But it brings me such joy.”
There was one thing Kroth wanted to do—one thing he wanted to check off his bucket list before he is finally unable to do so. And his family has helped make it happen.
Together, he and his children Jeff and Cindy have traveled from all over the country to follow their beloved Musketeers in the Big East Tournament in the Garden.
“I have such an appreciation for basketball, and Madison Square Garden is so special,” Kroth says. “I had to see Xavier play there.”
So they did.
Even as four flights were canceled due to a major snowstorm, they made it to New York to see Xavier defeat St. John’s Thursday afternoon. “It was definitely worth it,” Kroth says.
It’s been a long road to get here. Kroth, a 1969 Xavier graduate, worked at Procter & Gamble and first got season tickets to Muskie basketball in the mid-1980s at the Cincinnati Gardens. He says he wasn’t able to be very involved in clubs or organizations in school because he was also working, so he thinks he became interested in Xavier basketball to become more connected to his alma mater. Gradually, his passion started to grow.
His wife Sandy Lottman Kroth, a 1971 Edgecliff grad, would accompany him and cheer just as loud. When the Cintas Center opened, they were able to get seats right behind announcers Joe Sunderman and Byron Larkin.
There’s even an iconic photo of Tu Holloway, arms raised to a screaming Cintas crowd after hitting multiple threes in a 2011 comeback win over Purdue. Just to the right of Holloway you can see Sandy and Bill, cheering proudly.
They held those seats even after he retired and they moved to Venice, Fla., always either using them or finding someone who would.
In 2015, Sandy succumbed to breast cancer and the family traveled to Italy in her honor. Then, two years ago this month, Kroth started feeling odd. He went to the doctor. Tests were run. The result? Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that forms in bone marrow and crowds out healthy blood cells. There is no cure.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Kroth gave up his season tickets. So the family decided it was now time to do something for their father.
“It was a pretty big deal to be able to do this for him,” says son Jeff Kroth. “It’s something we’ll always remember.”
"He's a great, great fan," Sunderman said after learning Kroth made it up to New York. "He always made me feel special. It's great he was able to come up and see the team."
Kroth says that if there was ever a time to do it, this would be the year. This year’s team is his all-time favorite, he says.
“They have so much depth,” he marvels. “So many offensive weapons. They can do so much.”
All of it makes him feel like a win tonight is probable—and a Final Four run is definitely in the realm of possibility.
“I don’t want to jinx them,” he says. “But I think I could probably travel to some of their NCAA games.”
The thing he is most proud of? He’s passed this passion down to his children, none of whom attended Xavier.
“It’s because of him,” daughter Cindy says. “We’re all fans because of him.”