The bloodline of the Cross family is amphibious in nature.
Jeff Cross was a walk-on swimmer at Georgia Southern University, while his eventual wife, Debra, was a diver for the Eagles. Their daughter, Jessica, now 25, swam at Division II power Drury University in Springfield, Mo.
So when Jessica’s younger brother Michael, now a senior at West Forsyth high school, put swimming to the side at the ripe age of 12, a trend seemingly was broken.
Actually, it was only delayed.
Michael Cross never was a quitter; he simply grew up with a passion for life characterized by fluidity. He admits his want to be around friends as much as possible influenced his decision to put competitive sports to the side during the earlier years of his adolescence. By the time he was enrolled at West his want to service others directed him toward a hard-focus on pursuing pre-medical school, which eliminated the possibility of vigorous sports even more.
He played on the high school golf team—golf, another sport his father excelled at—as an underclassmen with the Wolverines, teeing off as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in tournaments, playing scratch golf with older classmates and opponents, but admitted it was more of a leisurely sport—one that came naturally to him, and one that didn’t require him to be in the best shape.
Rarely was Cross’ want-to questioned, but Jeff did always wonder if Michael would jump back in the pool.
Last winter Michael caved to the thought of getting back in the water, so he signed up for the swim team as a junior, went to the first practice at 6 a.m. on a week-day morning, participated in a gauntlet of drills and went home to tell his father how he felt.
“I just don’t know if I can keep doing this,” Michael told Jeff. The practice was unexpectedly demanding, intense and required a well-conditioned body and mind. Michael nearly put swimming to bed after just one day, but before the next day came he had a change of heart—he was immediately drawn to the new friendships he had made in just a few hours at the pool, and he didn’t want to let those go.
What he didn’t realize was that he’d become the facilitator of the culture he was simply observing on his first day. Michael went back for a second practice, a third, a fourth, and within days he battled his way into swimming shape.
“I worked on technique a lot,” Cross said. “For six years I was a club swimmer before middle school, and then it was just little tweaks the coaches went through with me. It was just focusing on that for a week or so.”
Michael, who had already been power lifting with his friends on the football team, had the ability to excel as a sprint swimmer. That’s where swim coach Clayton Tillery slotted him last season, but Tillery’s focus is to get as many swimmers qualified for state as possible. If a swimmer isn’t at state-qualifying status in one event, he’ll have them focus on another.
Tillery’s other wish has been to build a family environment on the team, and Michael has directed the team toward that goal.
“Me and all of the other people that are big leaders on the team like to really help out,” Cross said. “There’s individual stuff involved with the team in everything and you either win as a team or lose as a team.”
So far this season the Wolverines have made a splash. Both the boys and girls took first place at the North Forsyth High School Invitational on Nov. 7, then earned first and second, respectively, a week later in a dual meet against Forsyth Central and Pinecrest.
“We’re coming in with these wins going into the bigger meets, so I think we have a lot of confidence. The freshman see us putting in the work, so they put in the same amount of work and will get the results,” Cross said.
Cross’ plans to attend pre-med school, with Georgia Southern and Kennesaw State leading the list, after high school. He hopes to continue swimming competitively at the club level, and if he continues to grow back into his pedigree, he’ll consider walking on to an NCAA program.
But his main focus isn’t himself—it’s others.
“I just want to help people. I like helping people,” Cross said of his plans to enter the medical field. When asked why he chose such a time-consuming career path, Cross smiled.
“You can’t have something easy,” Cross said. “You can have other things that are easy, like hobbies, but you’ve got to have that one thing that challenges you throughout your day.”