End of a Flivvers era: Cross bids farewell to girls basketball team

Kingsford coach Mike Cross presented music boxes to the senior members of the varsity girls basketball team Wednesday. Pictured, from left: Maddie Koski, Cassie Barglind, Rachel Wells, coach Mike Cross, Sam Cross, Jordyn Kriegl, Sarah Harris and Renee Roberts. (Burt Angeli/The Daily News)

KINGSFORD — Mike Cross continued a tradition Wednesday at the Kingsford High School varsity girls basketball team banquet.

Cross, stepping down after 22 years with the program, presented hand-made music boxes to the senior players. That’s something he’s done for 13 of his 14 years with the varsity.

“I felt guilty about missing the first year,” said Cross, who later tracked down those overlooked Flivver seniors from 2004.

There’s either “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art” playing in the music boxes. One of his past senior groups presented him with a branding iron for burning into the wood — “handcrafted by Coach Cross.”

Mike Cross guiding the Flivvers will end after 307 games, with a 180-127 (.586) record. He leaves the program as the girls’ all-time winningest coach.

“It’s time,” Cross told the gathering Wednesday in the Kingsford High School cafeteria. “It’s been amazing. I’ve been blessed to have people around me that support me and kids that do what you ask them to do. It’s been an incredible run.”

Cross initially resigned after the 2017 season, but had a change of heart.

“I did want to finish out this year with this group,” said Cross, noting the seniors have been together since third grade. “We were terrible (back then). But what it taught me is if you stay in the gym long enough you can develop amazing skills.”

Among those young Flivver basketball players was the late Jolene Treml, who died in a car accident last December with classmate Taylor Bosley.

“JoJo,” as her jersey read, was remembered in a season video tribute compiled by Cross.

“I’ve had some amazing experiences,” said Cross, recalling the January game with rival Iron Mountain when the Flivvers went into the stands to present Treml’s parents with roses. “You guys were witness to one of the most amazing experiences. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything as a coach, and that probably includes going to the semifinals.”

That would be the 2010 Class B state semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center. The Flivvers had two players with ACL injuries, Catherine Benzie and Amy Feira, who wanted to suit up despite limited mobility.

In the final seconds of the game, Cross asked assistant Tom Clarke to alert the Detroit Country Day coach that a couple injured Flivvers would be taking the court.

Cross had Benzie in one corner and Feira in the other. Abby Tresedder drove the lane and kicked the ball out to Benzie.

“Greatest thing of my (coaching) life when they got in the game,” Cross said. “Catherine drained that three and our fans went wild.

“Up until the roses, that was the greatest thing I’ve seen on a basketball court.”

Cross’ playing career consists of seconds with a Norway-Vulcan seventh and eighth grade team coached by Dwight Castelaz.

“I never played,” Cross said. “Dwight put me in one time for a minute. I love to say I got every minute that I deserved.”

The coaching career took shape during his student-teaching at Marquette’s Bothwell Middle School. Teacher Ken Bullock suggested coaching basketball.

“You need to be a coach,” Cross recalled of Bullock’s message. “You can get a job if you’re a coach.”

Replied Cross, “Ken, I know nothing about basketball.”

Cross spent a couple years coaching Kingsford junior high basketball. Then three with the freshmen and three with the junior varsity.

Three summers working Tom Izzo’s Michigan State basketball camps was “incredible.”

“I learned an absolute ton,” Cross said.

In 2004, Cross took over the varsity program after Lisa Harry stepped down.

“I’ve been blessed to have been around coaches like Lisa, Chris Caviani, Tom Clarke and Terry Youren,” Cross said at the banquet. “I’ve had some great people to be around.”

Cross also saluted Dan Olkkonen, Dan Short, Roger LeDuc and Tony Calo.

The late Kingsford athletic director Don Edens brought Cross into the basketball program.

“I was hired by the legend Don Edens,” Cross said. “Proud he saw so much in me.”

Cross also expressed appreciation to his players over the years. Kingsford won three regional titles along with the unbeaten Great Northern Conference championship team in 2009.

“I’ve been around some really wonderful people,” Cross said. “Basketball has given me friends and wonderful experiences. I’ll miss doing it.”