Springfield grad, trailblazer in basketball and education, dies at 91

Apr. 25—Crystal 'Boo' Ellis, a member of Springfield High School's 1950 state championship basketball team, died on Monday at 91 in Toledo.

Ellis was the first Black man to play basketball at Bowling Green State University and the first Black superintendent for Toledo Public Schools. Earlier this year, the school district dedicated the first Friday in February as Crystal Ellis Day.

Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, released a statement Tuesday on the passing of Ellis, praising him for setting high standards and expectations for students and staff members.

"He was a mentor and a friend to many," Durant said. "Dr. Ellis saw the potential in every student and worked to help them become someone others liked and respected. He will be truly missed, but his legend will live on across our district as he was loved and revered by all who knew him. Our hearts and prayers are with his family."

Ellis was born on Feb 5, 1933. He was a junior in 1950 when Springfield beat Akron South 53-48 to win the Class A state championship at Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus. Ellis led the Wildcats with 19 points. He had 13 points in the first half. He was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Bill Goettman.

"They're the finest bunch of boys any coach could hope to work with," coach Elwood Pitzer said after the game. "Sure I was worried about the outcome of the game — who wouldn't be under those conditions? But that team spirit and determination to win carried us through. As far as individual players are concerned, every man played as hard as he could and did a fine job. But I'll go on record as saying that the rebound work of Boo Ellis tonight was just exactly sensational. I think Ellis played as fine a game as you could ever expect of any player."

Ellis played for Bowling Green for two seasons (1951-53) but then left school and returned to Springfield when his stepfather suffered a stroke.

"He was the man who fueled the fire I had when I went to Bowling Green," Ellis said in a story that ran on Bowling Green's website in 2021. "I felt like I needed to go home and take care of my mother and the only father I had ever known."

Ellis spent time in the U.S. Army before returning to Bowling Green in 1955. He averaged 14.3 points as a junior and 9.1 points as a senior when he was named team MVP. He was a team captain as a senior in 1957, the year he graduated. He scored 896 points in four seasons.

In 1971, Ellis was inducted into Bowling Green's Hall of Fame. In 2010, Andy Ouriel, of the BG News, asked Ellis what it meant to him to be the university's first Black basketball player.

"Nothing," Ellis said. "I was a member of the team. What I wanted to do is be the kind of person to be grateful for the opportunity that I had been given by Harold Anderson. That is what it meant to me because that wasn't happening. In Toledo, they had a few (Black) basketball players, but that was a big city. In the smaller universities, (putting Black players on teams) wasn't happening. It wasn't happening in Dayton or Ohio U. It just wasn't happening. And I wanted to make sure that what I did and how I did it and how I represented Bowling Green State University was appropriate."

Ellis earned a master's degree from Bowling Green in 1975 and an honorary doctorate in 1994. He worked as the director of a YMCA in Toledo for more than a decade and started working in the Toledo school district in 1969. He worked as a principal at six different schools. He was named superintendent of schools in 1991 and held the position until 1996.

Bowling Green President Rodney K. Rogers released a statement Tuesday on X (Twitter) about the passing of Ellis.

"Dr. Ellis was a pioneer in his life and career," Rogers said, "and as a leader in K-12 education, he created immeasurable public good. He leaves a lasting legacy at BGSU and in all the communities he served."