Tony's Take: A Celebration Of Life With Coach Joe Newton

Statements from one of Newton's many admirers, former athletes, and coaching brethren:

Former long time York assistant coach who is now head coach at York Charlie Kern Sr.: 

I first met Mr Newton in front of the school as the team was running around the circle drive. I was was 24, but nervous to the point of sickness to address the man whose shadow extended all the way to my hometown in NY state.  

"I had secured a student teaching position for the fall of '93 and was hoping to assist the cross country team.  Knowing that I had to ask the man who wrote the book on HS cross country and motivation if I can help him was, in my mind, folly, but perhaps he would be kind enough to let me perform some lowly task and I could soak up as much as I could.  Walking from a distant parking lot towards him was an exercise of courage, my heart was pounding and my legs were weak.  

I repeatedly practiced my speech, making changes along the way.  Once I made it to the steps outside the gym, his glare was focused and directly on me.  He looked over the top of his glasses and was waiting for me to speak.  I immediately fumbled my words, botched the speech and watched his face contort with a combination of amusement, compassion and disdain.  Needing to save face I cut to the chase and said,  "I will be student teaching in the fall and was wondering if I could help you and the cross country program?" Everything changed with that question (in more ways than I could have imagined).  Mr. Newton, sitting in his chair, stood up and declared to his manager, "Kurtis! Can you believe it!  This man, came to me, from God!"  He welcomed me to York with a performance that is symbolic of his existence;  He was larger than life.  

I am having great difficulty coming to grips with the end of the most amazing coaching run, pun intended, in the history of cross country.  The six degrees of separation game is a fun way to see our connection to Kevin Bacon.  In the world of Illinois cross country, there may not be a person who is more than 1 level removed from Mr Newton.  I am fortunate to say that I have worked directly with Mr Newton and have been doing so since 1993.

The lessons that he taught his athletes were also learned or relearned as his assistant.  Mr Newton took advantage of the opportunity to teach young men lessons that will sustain them for the rest of their lives. A winning culture was built, not from trophies, but from a foundation of values that insures success for life! The Newtonisms and references continue to rattle around in the heads of athletes from 1956 to 2015 and guide the lives of young and old men.  In this way, Mr Newton  has become larger than life, he lives on in his students and athletes and thus becomes immortal."

Apollo HS; Owensboro, KY coach Mark Rowe: 

"For all the success Mr. Newton has had- the State Championships, National Championships, etc.- I think his greatest contribution to the sport is an example he's given us for how to treat athletes. For decades, he has taught athletes  life skills that were more important than how to run fast. Along the way, he's inspired a countless number of coaches by simply sticking to his principles of hard work and dedication no matter what decade he was coaching in. I'm convinced that the sport of high school cross country in the United States would not nearly be as strong as it is today without the huge impact that Mr. Newton has had. He's simply the best cross-country coach there's ever been."

Former York runner and Elmwood Park coach Patrick Sheridan: 
"Mr. Newton symbolized bringing out the best in each of his runners and managers. Whether it was being a state champion or breaking 5 minutes in the mile, he made each young man he coached feel special and important. He cared about us and even though he had three children of his own, and two sons, he loved us like sons. Because of that, and his belief in us, we were willing to run through walls for him and for each other."

Palatine coach Chris Quick (one of the few coaches to beat Newton for a state title): 
"Hard to explain what Joe Newton meant. It suffices to say that most of us who accomplished something great in Illinois XC either did it because of him or in opposition to him. Either way, he was the center of it all."

Hinsdale Central coach/former York runner Noah Lawrence

I, like many others, owe my vocation, work ethic, and outlook on life in large part to my high school coach, Mr. Newton.  As a result of running in his program, I developed confidence, purpose, and a sense of belonging - three traits so crucial to navigating the teenage years.  He worked us incredibly hard - the hundred mile weeks are not myth but reality - and yet from that intensity I learned of talents and capabilities I'd never otherwise known I'd had. 

As a coach for the past 15 years, my appreciation for Mr. Newton has only grown deeper. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and in the first decade of the new century, York almost always won all 4 levels at the Conference meet. As a young coach at Hinsdale Central, I wondered if we'd ever be able to beat York on any level. To have that level of success in a conference with so many other good teams and coaches is awesome to contemplate.

When we finally did defeat York, at the 2013 state meet, it was a humbling moment. At that time, I wrote the following: 'Mr. Newton was my coach, and the man who made me who I am today. Several people came up to me today to ask me if I got to shake his hand. Alas, I did not. Amidst the excitement of learning the final results, I lost the opportunity to approach him. I know he will be upset and disappointed with how his season turned out, late season illness sidelining one of their best runners, leading to a 5th place finish.
Three weeks ago, York beat LT, DGN, and us at Conference, and today finished behind all of us. But we all walk in Mr. Newton's shadow. There will never be another coach like him, and my earnest wish is that he takes some solace from the fact that the team that won today was coached, in part, by a man who ran for him.'  It is the greatest tribute an athlete can give to his coach. As we contemplate the stark reality that Mr. Newton is, in fact, mortal, I'd like to simply add to this that his legacy will live on so long as we as coaches aspire to live up to his example of believing in our athletes more than they believe in themselves, of motivating them to do the work necessary to discover their own untapped potential. 

Dan Iverson, Napeville North girls coach:
"York runners everywhere and our sport are forever better for the time he spent with us. I am certainly a better coach and person for having known him. Rest well, Mr. Newton."

Paul Vandersteen, Neuqua Valley Boys Coach: 

"Joe Newton IS Illinois distance running. Where would Illinois distance running be without him? He is the very definition of a legend."


There are so many great moments that I've seen from Coach Newton's program. Here is my top 5:

1. 2000 State Track & Field State Championship-  I was there from beginning to end- the entire weekend. Everyone inside O'Brien Stadium knew it was Coach Newton's last round as head track coach. He would retire after the championship and hand the reigns over to Coach Stan Reddel. I remembered reading somewhere that Newton wanted this state title bad. Several previous opportunities had escaped his clutches before. He had perhaps best team ever with Donald Sage and the distance side. But on the sprint end was Terre Mastrino. The Dukes racked up serious entries from the prelims to the finals. They won the 4x8 without Sage and Tim Hobbs. Sage swept the 3200 (chilling meet record)/1600, Hobbs took the 800, and Mastrino collected big points in the dash department. The Dukes crushed the one-man army of Lemont's Nick Bromberek 70-38. What was so impressive was Sage running the 4x4 anchor in the prelims. He clocked 49.7 after running the 1600 in 4:15 about 45 mins prior.

2. 4x800 national record at Prospect Invite (2000)- One of the most anticipated feats of the year. The Dukes wanted to add the outdoor record to the indoor one they had. I was late in seeing the Dukes run at Proviso West In February. I got to Prospect Invite early and was standing in the infield when it all went down. York actually were down after the first leg because Prairie Ridge ran their top guy first and ran 1:54-1:55. But was a matter of time and by the time Donald Sage got the baton on anchor it was over. He ran 52 seconds for the first 400 and clocked 1:50.xx for a time of 7:34.1. Although I saw the current national record by Long Beach Poly, CA live, this was more impressive to me because it was like a solo time trial by the Dukes.

3. Maria Cicero- One of the best distance runners in IHSA history and certainly the female equivalent of the school's Donald Sage. I had heard some rumors that Coach Newton did not like particularly care about girl runners. After Cicero had graduated and moved on to college at Boston College, I continued to follow her career. It was at the 2002 Cross Country national championship that she starred. I watch from afar to see how Coach Newton would celebrate her success. I heard him ask many details of her progress during the race and spoke to her with delight afterwards. Coach Newton would have equally been a great girls coach.

4. 2010 #1 OPRF vs. #2 York dual: I never seen a coach come into a dual meet so upset and yelling and pleading with his team. Coach Newton needed them to respond. As I snooped around the York camp prior to the race, I heard Newton say "Oak Park is #1 in the state... what are we going to do about it [Jack] Driggs? Coach Newton was apparently upset that his team had lost to them at the Richard Spring Invite on the state meet course a few weeks prior. The dual was a big deal as tons of people showed up along with several newspapers. Driggs won the race and York took the man to man combat 25-31. The Dukes got Coach Newton's urgent message and they never lost again until the NXN championship.

5. 1999 state cross country meet- Too bad the Nike Team Nationals were not around because if it were they may still possess the best team that championship had ever seen. Teams were scared of the 'Long Green Line' even before they lined up at the starting line. You could see it in their eyes. This team was lead by Sage's 14:03 winner, but there  were also six all-staters on that roster. Some think the 2005 team which was amazing could have challenged '99. I say no way. The did not even win nationals that year. They finished 2nd on a tie breaker. Enough said.