Upper Dublin’s Cross has done it all in eventful career

UPPER DUBLIN — Dorothy Fichter, known to nearly everyone these days as Dee Cross, didn’t have childhood dreams of becoming a Hall of Fame lacrosse player and coach.

While she was a three-sport star at Norristown High School, playing field hockey, basketball and lacrosse, her goal was to enter the business world via a degree from Shippensburg State College, which had a highly respected business curriculum.

In fact, her first coaching positions, as an assistant for the field hockey, basketball and lacrosse teams at Norristown High, were taken only when she couldn’t find a position in the business world.

“My dad had always told me I should get my teaching degree,’ recalled Cross, who coached her final scholastic game Thursday in Upper Dublin’s 9-8 win over Gwynedd Mercy. “I took the assistant coaching jobs at Norristown, and found I really enjoyed it.

“I liked developing players and working with the girls.’

The young coach also discovered something about herself.

“I realized I didn’t want to work in an office all day,’ she said.

So ultimately, Cross took her father’s advice and enrolled in Temple University to earn her teaching degree, a degree that would come in handy when she became a teacher and lacrosse coach at Abington High School.But before her coaching days would begin, Cross continued to play — at an extremely high level. She was named the team Most Valuable Player at Shippensburg in 1979, 1980 and 1981. She was named to the U.S. national team in 1980 and played on that team until 1989, climaxed by captaining the team to an international silver medal in 1986 and the gold medal in the tournament in Australia in 1989, her final season as a competitive player.

By then, Cross was ensconced as the head lacrosse coach at Abington, and becoming a much better leader of young players.

“When you coach, it’s a different bond than it is when you play with other players, and it kind of became who I was. I loved watching the development of the young players.

“My first three years as an assistant, I didn’t understand the X’s and O’s. But I was able to learn from some pretty good coaches.

“By the time I was playing with the national team, it really helped me as a coach. I had the players’ attention because they knew I was playing at a high level and I had more confidence in the drills I was running and the decisions I was making.’

Those coaching days at Abington, ultimately, were not successful in terms of wins and losses. But Cross remembers that experience fondly.

“I think, when I stopped coaching there in 1999, my record was something like 90-109-7,’ she said. “It’s really unfair to compare those teams to the ones at Upper Dublin because I had so much more talent at Upper Dublin.

“But we had fun, and I enjoyed watching the girls grow up. And we had some success. The playoffs were not like they are now, and every year there was a pigtail game to get into the district playoffs.

“We made that pigtail game three or four years in a row and never won it, but we always considered ourselves district qualifiers.

“Another year, we beat Souderton, who we never could beat. We beat them, 7-6, and you might have thought we’d won the national championship. Those were fun times.’

Perhaps Cross’ best decision as a coach came when she literally ran into her husband, Sumner.

“I had returned (from playing internationally) to Abington and was asked to coach ninth-grade lacrosse,’ Cross said. “The players kept telling me I should meet the new boys lacrosse coach. Every day, when we ran after practice, we used to run past where the boys practiced.

“After practice one day, in April, I ran into him, literally, we crashed into each other. He was coming out of the school and I was coming in. I had a big tryout with Philly Lacrosse that Saturday, and I asked him if he’d have a catch with me.

“Four months after that day we were engaged and we were married four months after that. I came back to school the next year as Mrs. Cross, and the players said, ‘ We wanted you to have dinner with him, not marry him.’

“But I tell everyone that if it wasn’t for Sumner, I couldn’t have done what I’ve done as a coach.

“He was a golf course superintendent and was done every day at 3:00, so he was able to look after our kids. He was always supportive of me coaching, he never questioned me.

“He’s been my No. 1 fan, and he’s been awesome.’

The Cross family began shortly after Dee had retired from the U.S. World Cup team.

“We talked about having children,’ Cross said. “That was in September of 1989, our daughter Ali was born a year later.

“I was 31, I knew I was done playing. We were so excited, and I would have liked to have had a boy along the way, but we just kept having girls.’

Those girls — Ali, Amy, Kelly and Julie — were a major factor in Cross’ decision to return to scholastic coaching in 2007.

At Upper Dublin, the program exploded, with Cross overseeing a juggernaut that included six straight Suburban One League championships and a you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it postseason run in 2011 that saw the Cardinals earn the program’s first state-playoff berth.

Cross listed that run, and specifically a 13-9 win over North Penn during it, as one of her career coaching highlights.

“As a player, my favorite moment was winning the World Cup championship (in Australia) in overtime,’ she said. “As a coach, it would be that win over North Penn that enabled us to go to state playoffs.

“The other would be having the opportunity to coach my own daughters. That one came with its challenges, but it’s something I’ll always cherish.’

Cross added one of primary things she’ll miss are her relationships and friendships she’s made through sports over the years.

“I think of all the coaches I played under, and those I played against,’ she said. “People like Sue Kidder, who was the lacrosse coach at Norristown, and Bonnie Taylor, the field hockey coach there.

“It’s amazing, but the whole time I was at Norristown we did not win a single lacrosse or field hockey game. When I went to Shippensburg and the team won its first field hockey game of the year, I was jumping around, going crazy because I’d never won field hockey game before. Everyone was looking at me like I was nuts.

“Then there are the coaches I’ve coached with and against for so many years that have become friends, like Kendra (Finger) here at Upper Dublin, Ellen Reilly at Plymouth Whitemarsh, Pat Toner from Council Rock and Linda Scott, who coached at Upper Dublin before I did.

“I was blessed with great coaches that gave me a passion for the game, and I’ve loved every minute of coaching. I’ve been blessed.’

And then there was the guy who insisted Cross get her teaching certification.

“My dad passed away just last year,’ she said. “He was always my No. 1 fan, and I still think about him every day.

“As for how my coaching career ended, I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t have planned it any better. We had a very young team, only four players had any varsity experience, but we went 3-0 in my final week. And in my final game I coached against Deb Lawlor, who was on the first Norristown team I ever coached and who was like a daughter to me.

“It was just so cool the way it all ended.’

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