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Archive for January 29th, 2010

     George McCrossin, former Athletic Director and men’s basketball and golf coach for 35 years, died Saturday, Jan. 23, in Clearwater. McCrossin, 85, retired in 1987 after 35 years at the college. 

     McCrossin joined the St. Petersburg Junior College staff in 1952 as men’s basketball coach. During most of his coaching years, SPJC offered no athletic scholarships. In spite of that, McCrossin compiled a 539-369 record, making him the 14th winningest junior college coach ever at the time of his retirement. 

     As Athletic Director, he spearheaded the building of the college’s first gym in 1958, and helped with the formation of a statewide league in 1960.

     As a golf coach, his achievements were even more remarkable; he earned national championships in 1968 and 1969, runners-up in 1967 and 1970, and his program produced nine All-Americans. He was named National Junior College Coach of the Year in 1969. He retired in 1987 at the age of 67.

      At the Bay Area’s 1986 Sports Salute banquet, he was named Sports Personality of the Year. He was inducted into the Florida Community College Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Florida Community College Activities Association Hall of Fame in 1995.

      McCrossin played basketball and was team captain at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1940s and early 1950s after serving as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II.

      “He was a heck of a player,” Ed Long, who succeeded McCrossin as SPJC Athletic Director,  said in a 2006 interview. “He was an All-American at Pitt, got a pro tryout, and I understand he was the last player to be cut by the Boston Celtics.’’

      McCrossin said in 2006 that he remembered his players with fondness.

      “We just had a great group of kids,” he said. “For what they had, they got everything out of it. They were dedicated. And they enjoyed the challenge.”

      In a 2006 story in SPC Today, the college’s semi-annual alumni magazine, a number of those former players remembered their one-time coach:

      “When I played, Coach McCrossin was bringing a lot of African-American guys here, including me, and I remember he was a really even-keel guy. He showed a lot of fairness. He was a strategist as a coach. I didn’t consider myself a prize-winning player, but I learned a lot, and as a team we did really well. I applied what he taught me and it worked out very well.” — Terry Byrd, St. Petersburg, center, 1967-68 and 1968-69.

      “Back then, in order to get enough games, we played in the city A-league. When we played those games, Coach McCrossin would also play – point guard.” — Ed Evans, Clearwater, guard/forward, 1957-58 and 1958-59.

      “He would keep fit by going through the same routine as we did. He taught us to juggle – tennis balls, basically, then other things – to improve our hand-eye coordination: That’s a talent I still possess. And I juggle things in life.” — Lars Hafner, St. Petersburg, guard/forward, co-captain, 1979-80 and 1980-81.

      Graveside services were scheduled for  Jan. 29 at Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park, Clearwater.

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     As most sectors of the state’s economy have throttled back, St. Petersburg College and many of Florida’s other community colleges have roared ahead, adding new programs and welcoming hundreds of additional students, many of whom had been turned away from other state institutions. 

     “Rather than shrink from the challenges that faced us, we decided to take an opposite approach and provide additional students with the programs and training they need to get good jobs and be part of the inevitable recovery,” said Tom Furlong, SPC’s Interim President. ” History tells us that community colleges are one of the best sources out there for education that leads directly to jobs. SPC and other similar schools are great values as well as shortcuts to success.” 

     In his State of the Union speech this week, President Barack Obama urged the Senate to pass legislation that will “revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.” Read this section from President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address.

     Steep economic downturns create great opportunities for community college education, Furlong said. Resources may tighten, but community colleges offer high-quality education for comparatively little money, and graduates often walk right into jobs that offer pay and benefits that far exceed their previous employment. 

     “One reason for this is the close relationships that community colleges tend to have to business leaders in their home areas,” Furlong noted. “If an area needs nurses or bankers or technicians, the local community college usually can turn on a dime, respond to that need, and develop programs that can start serving students almost immediately.”

     Florida’s community colleges served more than 845,000 students in 2009, up 9.6 percent from 2008. Enrollments for 2010 are expected to be even higher. As of this week, St. Petersburg College enrollment for the Spring 2010 term is up 14 percent.

     Community College Week’s annual Top 100 report, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, said Florida community colleges were among the top in the nation last year when it came to awarding associate degrees.

     Will N. Holcombe, Chancellor of The Florida College System, said Florida’s community colleges are determined to keep their doors open to students in spite of ever-tightening budgets.

     “Often times, entry into our system is the first opportunity for students to achieve higher education,” he said, “and I’m proud of the work our institutions have done to provide a quality education to a diverse student body during tough economic times.”

     One reason for the expanding role of community colleges is the steep enrollment increase among veterans. A new GI bill provides more than $62 billion in education benefits across the country, and vets with three years of active service can receive full tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and $1,000 a year for books and supplies. The legislation has contributed to a 76 percent increase in veteran enrollment at Florida colleges.

     “Think back to the post-World War II days, when thousands of returning veterans enrolled in colleges across the country and then took the lead in rebuilding the American economy in a way that had never been seen before,” Furlong said. “We have a similar opportunity now, and it is very exciting to consider the role that SPC and other similar institutions can play in that.”

     St. Petersburg College began offering bachelor’s degrees in 2002, initially offering programs in nursing, education and technology management. Today, the college offers 22 bachelor’s programs and adds new ones every year. Among similar schools statewide, 16 new bachelor’s programs were created at seven colleges last year. Another 19 new programs at nine Florida colleges have been proposed for this year.

     “For more and more students of all ages, SPC and other community colleges are where higher education begins, and higher education means better jobs and enhanced income,” Furlong said. “We understand the role that we play in a stronger future economy, and we’re excited about the challenge we face.”

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