NORWALK—A new chapter in Brien McMahon High School athletics will begin on June 21.
That is the date John Cross will take the reigns from Joe Madaffari in the Senators’ athletic director’s office.
Madaffari will conclude 40 years of service at McMahon. He entered as a math teacher 37 years ago and will finish up a 23-year tenure as McMahon athletic director.
“I’m excited to get started with that new challenge. But this spring I will be coaching baseball once again,” Cross said. “I’m talking to Joe (Madaffari) for about one hour every day about the routine of the athletic director’s job. I’m learning the routine season by season. I’ve already attended a meeting of the FCIAC athletic directors. And this week I’ll be at another meeting where I can introduce myself to athletic directors across the state of Connecticut.”
Cross had been a science teacher at McMahon since 1998. He has been the Senators’ baseball coach since 2002.
“I will continue teaching some chemistry classes after I become the athletic director,” Cross said. “My parents graduated from McMahon High School. I graduated from McMahon. I played for Joe (Madaffari) here when he was the baseball coach. When I was in college at UConn, I lived in McMahon dormitory. I’ve always been all about McMahon’s Red, White and Blue.”
The decision to follow Madaffari as athletic director was not an easy one for Cross.
Madaffari, who will remain as FCIAC Commissioner Dave Schulz’s right hand man as FCIAC assistant commissioner, was honored by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association as National Athletic Director of the Year last June.
“I knew for a while that Joe was retiring. My first instinct was I thought I’d be interested in the job,” Cross said. “Then I reached a point where I thought the time committment would be difficult since I have three daughters at home. I wasn’t sure if the opportunity was for me.
“Then last October, I thought about the job some more. I felt it was a job I wanted to pursue,” Cross continued. “I spent a lot of time talking to my entire family about the time committment. And we all concluded I should move forward.”
Cross, who has served as the head of FCIAC baseball for the past 15 years, understands how special the spirit of McMahon High School is.
“When I was a student, (boys basketball, soccer coach) Ralph King, (wrestling, football coach) Jack Casagrande and (girls basketball coach) Mary Kehoe were my gym teachers,” Cross said. “We have fields and gymnasiums named here in their honor. They are legends. And the resumes that Ed Faulkner (girls basketball), Joe Santa Lucia (wrestling), Rob Trifone (football) and Mike Epstein (lacrosse) built while coaching here are special.
“I’ve been connected to everyone who has done great things here at Brien McMahon High School,” Cross continued. “I hope one day Brien McMahon High School will bring home more championship banners. I have ideas on how to get this done.”
The improvements to the football/lacrosse field along with the additional artificial turf practice fields and the artificial turf baseball diamond have allowed McMahon to keep pace in the ever-improving FCIAC Conference.
“We have some state of the art athletic facilities. Our athletes have an edge. We don’t worry about field conditions,” Cross said. “Adding an artificial turf softball field is the next project. We take a lot of pride in our athletic complex.”
He is excited for the challenge. But Cross knows that Madaffari’s accomplishments will leave big shoes to fill.
“You can’t follow Joe Madaffari. I can’t be Joe Madaffari. I can’t suddenly win all the awards Joe has,” Cross said. “I just have to be John Cross and move things forward. I followed Joe as baseball coach back in 2002. He just let me be me. That will continue now.”
And Cross will adjust his mindset to impart a message of success.
“As a coach, you’re working with young kids. As an athletic director, you’re coaching adults,” Cross said. “I’ll have to be a great communicator with coaches and parents. I have to share with them my vision of the athletic department and include them in the process. And help our coaches navigate the current athletic climate.”