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Haddon Heights' Kyle Cross: A lot more than just a basketball manager

Kyle Cross is busy. He makes sure those green water cups are filled for breaks in the action during games and scrimmages for the Haddon Heights High School boys' basketball team.

Kyle Cross is busy.

He makes sure those green water cups are filled for breaks in the action during games and scrimmages for the Haddon Heights High School boys' basketball team.

During practice, he operates the clock and helps with drills as a passer or rebounder.

Sometimes, he shoots free throws to determine if the team has to run another sprint. Sometimes, he joins with players and coaches in a half-court-shot challenge.

"I'm the original half-court king," Cross said.

Cross also is the reigning homecoming king. He was a water boy for the football team. He won a school lip-synch contest with a rendition of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."

The senior with the ever-present smile is The Man in the hallways of the old school nestled between Second and First Avenues in the Camden County suburb.

He knows everybody and everybody knows him. He pops into athletic director Joe Cramp's office "three or four times a day" just to talk Garnets sports or check on Cramp's family.

"He never has a bad day," Cramp said. "Our kids just adore him. Everything with Kyle is positive. His personality is infectious."

Cross has a lot of duties but just one job: He makes his school a better place.

"If you're having a bad day - just look at Kyle," said senior Rob Tindley, a star guard on the basketball team. "He'll bring your spirits up. He's always positive."

Cross, who has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, is set to begin his second season as manager for the Garnets basketball team.

At a recent scrimmage against Schalick, Cross was in constant motion: distributing water cups during breaks in the action, encouraging players, pacing behind the bench, applauding good action.

"I really do love this job," Cross said. "I get to help everybody. I get to help us win."

Haddon Heights coach Mike Ricci said Cross has become "like part of my family."

Cross visits Ricci's home regularly to play with the family dog, Buster, and engage with Ricci's young children.

"Kyle is the type of kid that no matter what mood you're in, he will put you in a good one," Ricci said. "His smile is infectious. He just makes you feel good about yourself."

Cross said he is "best pals" with senior Jake Barr, a standout player on the football and basketball teams. The two have been close since middle school.

"Every day I'll see him and every day I'll hear the same thing, 'Hey, Jacob Barr,' " Barr said. "He's a fantastic kid, always with a smile on his face, always positive."

Barr probably set a personal best in the vertical leap when Cross' name was announced as homecoming king during halftime of the Oct. 22 football game against Paulsboro.

"I couldn't believe how high Jake jumped," Cramp said of the talented tight end's reaction to the results of a vote by the senior class.

Barr said Cross, in typically fun-loving fashion, wore his crown on the sideline and during water-break visits to the field in the second half of the game.

"That was such a special day," Barr said. "Just to see the look on his face."

Cross, who plans to attend Camden County College in the fall, lives with his father and grandmother in Barrington.

Doris Cross said her grandson loves being a part of the Haddon Heights school community, especially the athletic program.

"He thinks that school is the greatest place in the world," Doris Cross said. "It means so much to him, means so much to us, to see him be a part of something."

That's one way to look at this special situation: how much the school and athletic program mean to Cross.

But that's not the half of it. The flip side is greater: how much Cross means to the Garnets.

"He has taught us so much about everything," Barr said. "I can't tell you how many times things will be going wrong in a game and there's Kyle telling us, 'Keep going, you guys are doing a great job, don't give up.'

"That's him. That's him all the time. That's why he means so much to all of us."