BRIDGETON, Mo. — He is usually alone in his room. The only sounds you will hear come from ESPN on the television. It's usually a basketball game. That's because the sport was always a big part of the story of George Cross.
He was a 6-foot-4 forward once for Illinois State. He says he wasn’t that good. He says that a lot about everything he did. However, George Cross was a really good high school basketball coach.
In 1962, he became the first Black coach to lead a team to the Final Four in Missouri. Cross coached at Hadley Tech which later became Vashon. He coached from 1952 to 1969. In his final season, he guided the team to a 20-1 record.
He had a basketball philosophy back then which would surely work today in all sports.
“I tried to communicate with my players without being derogatory and without attacking my players," Cross said.
Cross coached some of the best players from The Public High League who later became great coaches themselves. People like Jim Gant, the outstanding coach from Central High School and Floyd Irons, the legendary coach from Vashon.
“I credit much of my success as an educator and coach to Mr. Cross. His impeccable mentorship to me on and off the court was immeasurable. As players, we were blessed to have someone like him in our young lives," Irons said.
Cross is 99 years old now. He moves pretty well and has a gentle smile for everybody in his residence at the Naomi House in Bridgeton. However, you can see the sadness in his eyes when he talks about the love of his life. Althea Cross died three years ago at age 94. They were married for 70 years.
“I want to cry every time I think about her, but life goes on. I hope to join her in heaven because if there is a place for good people, she is there," Cross said.