WINSTED — After seven years in what he calls both “the toughest and most underappreciated job in education” and “the best seven years of my educational career,” Gilbert Athletic Director Pat Cooke has decided to return to a “simpler” life as a Gilbert teacher, head baseball coach and father of a growing family.
In an email to Yellowjacket coaches Monday, Cooke announced, “I leave the athletics program in great hands as Donny Crossman now takes the lead as Gilbert’s new athletic director.”
By Wednesday afternoon, Crossman, a former Gilbert baseball coach himself, was still digesting his new responsibilities.
Nevertheless, if there’s such a thing as a natural for the Gilbert AD spot, Crossman is it.
“I love this town; I love this school. I can’t see doing anything else,” said Crossman, while thanking the superintendent of schools and principal for the opportunity.
Most people associated with The Gilbert School might think the administration had an easy decision this time, beginning with Crossman’s deep lineage with the school and its athletics.
Crossman’s maternal grandfather, Ed Decker, grew up an orphan in what was then the Gilbert Home on the site of the current high school. His paternal grandfather, Donald “Gump” Crossman was a three-time all-state Gilbert basketball player. His father, Wayne, was also an all-state basketball player.
“If you look at blood lines, I should have been a basketball player,” Crossman laughs.
He did play on Yellowjacket state champion basketball teams in 1997-’98 and 1998-’99, but Crossman’s true calling was baseball. As a Gilbert ace, he was a three-time All-Berkshire League pitcher, leading the Yellowjackets to two BL baseball championships.
Division I Central Connecticut State University came calling, along with UMass, UCONN and URI, but the Blue Devils backed it up with a full scholarship and the opportunity to major in Crossman’s teaching specialty, tech-ed.
Through four CCSU years, Crossman became a team co-captain after the team made two NCAA regional appearances and set a single-season school record for wins (41-17) in his sophomore year.
Crossman set a single-season record for appearances as a junior — 21.
The glory comes down to two lessons for Crossman, now 37, both eminently transferable to his new job.
“Playing Division I prepares you for life, balancing school work and athletics,” he said.
The second lesson for the former flamethrower whose fastball hit the lower ‘90s puts him in a unique position to counsel ambitious athletes and, perhaps, their parents.
Despite the opportunity to try out for two MLB teams after talking with scouts, “I had to choose between teaching and that,” he said. “I wasn’t drafted. After seeing the talent above me, I decided I wasn’t good enough. I chose teaching.”
Crossman had a Hall-of-Fame career with the Tri-State Baseball League until he tore his labrum at age 30, but neither he nor an already-long line of students, athletes, coaches and administrators regret his decision.
The trail includes seven years at Burlington’s Har-Bur Middle School and Lewis Mills High School, then the past four years at Gilbert.
Now, in his new position, he looks back at his membership on CCSU’s student/athlete advisory committee to the school’s administration.
“I enjoyed seeing that side of athletics,” he said. “The impact on student/athletes is enormous.
The impact flashes forward: “Now I have the opportunity to reach all of Gilbert’s student/athletes,” he says.
At the heart of the promise, including for wife Brooke and their six-year-old son Greyson, is this statement: “Being a student/athlete at Gilbert is why I’m who I am.”