Cross guides student-athletes in position he never expected as athletic director

by Alan Brads

Growing up deep in Steelers country in Northwest Virginia, Chris Cross gravitated toward sports and never looked back.

“We had a hoop in our driveway where I used to play with my brother,” Cross said. “He would beat me like a drum every time, but I still remember when I finally beat him and realized I was pretty good.”

But as a fifth grader playing basketball in the driveway, he never dreamed that his passion would make him an athletic director at a Division II university. He was just playing ball. 

Cross arrived in Cedarville in 2004 as an athletic trainer and assistant professor of athletic training.

“I had never heard of Cedarville,” Cross said. “I saw an ad for an open position and I saw it was a Christian school. You never know what people mean by Christian school, so I was a little skeptical, but when I walked around campus it had a different atmosphere than I’d ever experienced before.”

 He excelled as an athletic trainer and connected with students in a way their coaches can’t. 

“What I miss about athletic training is hanging out with the athletes,” he said. “Hanging out in the training room, you get to dive deep into a students athlete’s life. A lot of their identities have been wrapped up in their sport, so when they have an injury they have to do rehab for, that peels away some of those layers, and we focus on why we do what we do.”

After 10 years as an athletic trainer, Cross entered the ranks of administration working with  NCAA compliance, ensuring athletes and the university followed NCAA regulations for student athletes.

In July, 2021 Dr. Alan Geist stepped down from his position as athletic director to return to a teaching role, and university president Dr. Thomas White asked Cross to serve as the interim athletic director. 

White promoted Cross to full-time Athletic Director on February 18, 2022. 

“If you told me 18 years ago that I’d be doing this I’d say you’re crazy. “ Cross said “That was not even a thought in my mind.”

Under Cross’s leadership, Cedarville athletes have attended five national championships and tournaments. 

“What I enjoy most about this position at Cedarville is seeing student athletes compete hard, play with passion that is given to them by Christ, but at the end of the match we pray for the other team and show them that Christ loves them,” Cross said. 

Anyone who has played pick-up basketball with Cross knows about his competitive nature, but he has a deeper desire for Cedarville athletics than trophies.

“The reason we play sports is to tell people about Christ,” Cross said. “Right or wrong, athletics in today’s culture has been put on a pedestal above other parts of culture, so that gives us a platform.”

Cross recalls his favorite moment on the job. The men’s cross country team qualified for the national meet in Florida. A hot, humid day mixed with a hilly course produced a subpar run for the team, and a dissapointing result. Even so, the Yellow Jacket runners spearheaded a prayer circle of students from universities across America. 

“I could not have been more proud of our student athletes than that moment right there,” he said. “That’s what we’re all about.”

Less than a year into his tenure as the athletic director, Cross has no plans of moving anytime soon. 

“You don’t stay at an institution for 18 years without believing in the mission,” he said. “I’m sold out for this place.”

He and his wife Barbara raised their three sons, Mason, Colby and Tyler in Cedarville for the last 18 years. Mason and Colby each competed as student athletes at Cedarville, while the youngest, Tyler, plans to attend Cedarville when he graduates from high school.

Cross preaches that athletics are good for character development, and he practices what he preaches in his own family.

“There’s no better place in the world to raise a son or daughter than on the athletic field,” he said.

Cross emphazised that every Cedarville athlete is just like every other student. Not once did Cross mention the word “athlete” without prefacing it with “student.”

“I want to see our students and student athletes get to know each other, and realize that this person is the same as them, and struggles with the same things, and deals with the same challenges that I do.”

Just as Cross wants student athletes to reach out and get to know students, he wants students to come support their athlete friends. 

“Students cheering like crazy in the stands creates a great environment, and it’s easier to do that when you have a relationship with the players.

Whether it’s working one-on-one as a trainer, or at the top as athletic director, Cross loves working with students for the glory of God.

His office reveals this mindset. His Steelers bobbleheads show he remembers his past, his framed photos of Cedarville athletes show he’s living in the present, his business and marketing books show he’s looking forward to the future, and the Bible, on the end of his bookshelf closest to his chair, shows his mind is always set on eternity.

Alan Brads is a sophomore journalism student and frequent contributor for Cedars. He enjoys playing the drums and speaking Spanish, and watches Buckeye football like his life depends on it.

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