‘Better Things Ahead’

At 148 pounds in high school, John Cross, ’62, found himself too small for the football field and at 5 feet 8 inches too short to play basketball.


He found his sport in boxing.


“It was just a fun sport to be involved in,” said Cross. “After I won a few championships, it was even more fun.”


And it helped pay for his education.


Cross fought with the Cushing, Oklahoma, Episcopal Athletic Club, beginning his junior year in high school. While in high school he racked up 15 wins, including 10 knockouts, with four losses. He won the Oklahoma Amateur Athletic Union championship in 1959 and 1960.


In the fall of 1960, he enrolled at Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma). Then a boxing scholarship from Fort Smith Junior College tempted him east. Cross competed with the Fort Smith Boys Club notching an additional 29 wins, with 19 knockouts, and four losses. He won the Open Welterweight Champion title from Mid-South Regional Golden Gloves in Memphis in 1961 and the Arkansas Amateur Athletic Union championship in 1961 and 1962.


While he had opportunities to turn professional, he recalled the warnings of his first coach that boxing promoters didn’t put the interests of the boxer first.


“I just thought I better get a college degree,” he said. “I saw better things ahead of me with a college degree.”


Words of Cross’ mother also resounded within him. She told her children they would need more than a high school diploma for a good job. Of Cross and his eight siblings, seven would graduate college and three would attain their graduate degrees.


After graduating from Fort Smith Junior College, Cross put down his gloves and concentrated on his education.


When Cross enrolled at Oklahoma State University after two years in Fort Smith, he recalled FSJC biology professor Bob Anthony stating that sociology was one of the toughest courses in college. Cross declared himself as a sociology major.


“I came to the conclusion that in sociology you learn some things that you thought were true, aren’t necessarily true and it’s hard to make that transition,” Cross said. “I think that’s what he’s talking about.”


After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in sociology, he returned to Fort Smith to work as the associate director of the Fort Smith Boys Club and managed the Jeffrey Boys Club. Since the junior college and the club shared gym space, Cross became friends with Bill Crowder, the basketball coach. Crowder encouraged Cross to earn his master’s degree. And encouraged him. And encouraged him.


“After a period of time, I think he won out,” Cross said.


Cross earned his master’s in sociology from the University of Tulsa then taught for a year at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, before earning his doctorate from the University of Missouri.


While teaching sociology in classrooms from Nebraska to New York to North Dakota, Cross was recruited to teach American Indian law and then to direct American Indian programs. He is a member of the Hvteyievlke Band of the Seminole Nation.


In 1985, Cross returned to Oklahoma State University as the director of the American Indian Studies program and as a sociology professor. He retired in 2009.


“If I hadn’t got that position at Tahlequah, I had considered going back to Fort Smith,” he said. “But that set me off on a different route.”