Tackle finds a place to call home
Cruse thrives in family's care
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 13, 2003 12:00 AM
Any day it could hit Gino Cruse, and almost four years of pent-up sadness could flow in uncontrollable tears.
But for now he is a survivor who has found peace in an affluent Ahwatukee neighborhood, release as a defensive tackle on Desert Vista's football team and love from a family that helps him escape the horror of losing his father.
In May 2000, the night before Cruse's eighth-grade graduation, Hunter Eugene Cruse was hit over the head and murdered inside his taxicab in south Phoenix. About $25 was stolen from him. He had just called his son to tell him he was picking up food for them for dinner. The assailant was never found.
To this day, Gino sometimes thinks the man who called the 6-foot-4 1/2, 300-pound senior "my little bundle of joy" will return.
"To be honest, I don't even think it hit me yet," Cruse said. "I think now I'm still on vacation. I'd be thinking in the shower, 'I'm on vacation and I'll go back home.' Then, I'd look at my dad's picture, and realize, 'Dang, he's not coming back.' "
Cruse, who was raised by his mother in the first eight years of his life, had found more stability with his father. After his father's death, with Cruse's future uncertain, up stepped Kurt Boxrud, who coached Cruse on a traveling youth basketball team.
Boxrud had taken a liking to the fun-loving kid and helped clean out the east Phoenix apartment Gino shared with his father.
Boxrud talked to his wife, Sharon, and their two sons, Brandon, 17, and Ryan, 13, about bringing Cruse into their home.
"He really didn't have any options," Boxrud said. "I said, 'What do you think of bringing him here?' Everybody wanted it."
Kurt Boxrud became Cruse's legal guardian.
Cruse refers to Sharon and Kurt as 'Mom' and 'Dad,' and in their care, and with the additional influence of his former special education teacher, Kathy Graham-Schuff, Cruse has flourished.
"This is my only support I have," Cruse said of the Boxruds. "If all else fails, anything I need, I can get it at home.
"They're wonderful people. I'm blessed."
As Cruse goes off to college, he will continue in the Boxruds' footsteps. Cruse recently gave Wisconsin a commitment after Kurt and Sharon, Wisconsin alums, flew him to Madison to see the Badgers end Ohio State's long winning streak.
Cruse has molded himself into a Division I prospect who clogs up the middle with teammates near his size or a tad smaller.
"He does a really good job out there," said Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds, whose team plays host to Gilbert on Friday night in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Cruse said he found happiness in the Boxrud household.
"I'm a chameleon," Cruse said. "But it was hard to adapt here. I had no family out here."
Cruse, who is Black, had to get used to a rich, White neighborhood that was peaceful at night. He and the Boxruds have had fun with parent-teacher conferences.
"He'd say, 'Here's my dad,' and they'd give this look," Boxrud said.
Last week, Cruse walked into a ceramics class and asked for his brother Brandon.
"They looked at me and they looked at him and they said, 'Oh, I see a resemblance,' " Cruse said.
But adjusting to a neighborhood where there weren't any squealing tires, the fire of gunshots and screams at night, hasn't always been so fun.
"When I first moved out here, I was scared," Cruse said. "I figured something bad was going to happen around here. But where was it? I went from a place where my dad had guns in the house to a place where sometimes we sleep with our doors unlocked. I'm not used to not hearing anything after the sun goes down."
Now he hears cheers. And he won't forget the father who sang him to sleep.
"We always stayed together because all we had was each other," Cruse said. "Two pennies rubbing together."
Cruse said his father would come to the gym from an 18-hour shift and fall asleep on a bench watching Gino play basketball.
"He'd work so much," Gino said. "One time, he was sleeping so hard, he rolled off the side of the bench and onto the floor."
Yet Cruse still hasn't visited his father's grave.
"I'm afraid to," Cruse said. "I'm still not ready. I never cried about it. I don't know if that's normal. The thing is, I couldn't cry."
But he knows it could happen soon.
"He was a hell of a man," Cruse said. "He taught me to be a man."
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