Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 12 Dec 2004 10:31:43 -0500

Two for Newton

RUNNING COMMENTARY 549

Eons ago I ran a pair of summer track meets at York High School in suburban Chicago. Joe Newton coached at that school then, and 48 years after taking the job he's still there.

Newton grew into a legend in high school coaching. He was the only one from those ranks to serve on an Olympic men's staff (in 1988).

In the mid-1990s, as we worked together on a book of his, he promised to retire when "we win our 20th state cross-country title or I turn 70, whichever comes first." He has retired only from teaching at York and from coaching track. At 75 he still guides the cross-country team, which won its 24th Illinois state title this fall.

Our book, published in 1996, remains in print. It's called Coaching Cross-Country Successfully.

No one has done that better, longer than Joe Newton. And, through this and other books plus his clinic speeches, few coaches have taught more coaches how to do it.

Joe writes and speaks about training and tactics. But he has much more to teach about team-building and motivation.

He's tough-talking and tender-hearted, and his coaching style blends those traits. He recruits huge teams and works them hard. He also calls each boy (he coaches only the boys at York) by name (and often a nickname) each day, and shakes each one's hand at the end of every practice.

I've seen Joe only once since the book came out in 1997. We'd planned to get together again at the first Nike Team Nationals in Portland.

This was as true a U.S. championship meet as high school officialdom (and sometimes -dumb) would let it be. Nike intended to invite the 20 top boys' teams and 20 girls' teams to Portland.

State officials ruled that teams couldn't run under school names, and some states wouldn't let their kids run at all. Coaches' names couldn't appear in the program.

Nike still gathered a classy field, sparing no expense. Eight runners per team, plus a coach, were flown to Oregon, housed, fed and clothed.

Joe Newton couldn't come. He couldn't put off long-postponed back surgery any longer, having it right after the state meet.

"I can lie down, stand and walk," he told me. "But I can't sit down. That ruled out a plane trip."

His boys came west without him, without any coach but only with a chiropractor-friend of the team. They reversed the school name, running as "Kroy XC."

This was the first U.S. meet ever to give midrace scores. Chips relayed these results instantly to the announcer.

He didn't name Kroy/York among the one-kilometer leaders. By 4K the team took a four-point lead, which it stretched to 35 at the end. And York's Sean McNamara won individually.

The event was new and its presentation high-tech. But York won twice for its old coach the old-fashioned way, by peaking and pacing perfectly.

These boys were so well prepared that they didn't need Joe Newton on the scene to win. Afterward I congratulated some of them (who didn't know me), and they responded as perfect gentlemen. That shows good coaching too.

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