Four Illinois Running Icons Remember Competing Against Coach Joe Newton,


Joe Newton was a man of some complexity. That is the highest honor I can give a man, or a woman. To live a long life, to be involved in something that is avocation and vocation, to love and be loved, to give respect and get respect, those are the things that a coach does. The four stories below, put together by Jeff Benjamin, one of my longest writers and friends in this business, are special. If they do not tear you up, you should check your heart.

I ran in Saint Louis, Missouri from 1972 to 1974, before moving to California with my family. I knew how good cross country was in Illinois during my time and became aware of Coach Newton over the years. I believe we met once or twice and I had the luck to speak with Joe a few times. What a character, and what a man.

Jeff Benjamin cared for Joe Newton very much. Last year, Jeff went to Joe's retirement event, and recorded that event with pictures and commentary for RunBlogRun. In honor of Joe Newton, we will be reposting several stories today on the fine coach of York High School in Elmhurst, Illinois.

FullSizeRender.jpgJoe Newton, and Jeff Benjamin, November 2016, photo from Jeff Benjamin (noted the Reebok jacket)

57 Years Of Coaching.
29 State Titles. 28 in Cross Country.
1 in Track.
The ONLY High School Track Coach to serve as a U.S. Olympic Team Coach.
Numerous Hall of Fame Inductions.
Thousands of Lives Changed for the Better.
Former York high school Coach Joe Newton's passing last week at the age of 88 not only led to the loss of a coaching Legend, but also leaves a huge void for anyone who's a part of not only Illinois Running, but throughout the country.
Thousands of his former athletes and friends have spoken and already issued condolences on the Coach of the Legendary "Long Green Line."
But what about some of the high school competitors who tried to take down the York Dukes throughout the 6 decades, especially at Illinois' hallowed cross country course at Detweiller Park?
Four of these Illinois Running legends competes stand out. Here are their remembrances.
Craig Virgin - NCAA Champion,
Three-Time Olympian & Two Time World Cross Country Champion (America's Only Male XC Champ!)
" My 45 year-old Illinois State H.S. X-C Champs course record at Detweiller Park will fall to a young prep runner LONG BEFORE another Illinois High School X-C Coach even comes close to matching Joe Newton's 28 State Meet Championships in Cross Country and his one State Championship in Track & Field. Joe Newton was an icon in the sport of prep cross country both in Illinois and nationally and his memory will live on at Detweiller Park in early November for as long as the boys and girls continue to "lace 'em up!"
It just won't be the same without him in his accustomed place of honor under that tree on the side of the race course about 500 yards from the finish line. We need a statue of him there!"

Ken Popejoy-Sub-4 Minute Miler, NCAA Indoor champion in the mile, Big Ten titles in the outdoor and indoor mile, Top Masters Miler.
"I could put on a week long seminar about Joe Newton....the athlete, the teacher, the coach, the father, the adversary, the friend, the client (I was his attorney for 20 years before I became a judge!),the confidant, the adviser, a friend, a TOTAL legend!
This amazing man died on my 67th birthday.....52 years after I first knew of him during my freshman year of cross country at York's conference rival, Glenbard West. In that same season, he handed my the first place trophy at the York Freshman Invite run at his East End is the only trophy that I have kept from my 30 year running career and sits in my chambers to this day!
Fifty one years ago,during my sophomore year, my high school coach, Jim Arnold, scheduled our York dual meet to be run during the half time of our home football game and in front of our home crowd we beat York 18-42 for their first dual meet loss in some 50 competitions. After the race Coach Newton tore into our coach and said he would never consent to another "spectacle" like that again and I swear that we could hear Joe "chastising" his dukes for the entire 7 mile bus ride back to York.
York never lost to Glenbard West again!!!
In my junior year we ran the Dupage County Cross Country Championship,again at East End Park. Their is a picture in Joe's book, The Long Green Line, showing me and FOUR York runners in the lead. At the finish, I held on for the win...ahead of the next SEVEN York runners placing 2-8!!! Those guys couldn't stand me because I always stayed in their pack and out kicked them all to the finish. I couldn't stand them because that pack was so powerful and strong and determined and our team could never "crack their pack".
So it is with that very brief historical context, that I come to relate by far the most touching experience that I ever had in my 30 years of competition. It was in Nov 1968 at our State Cross Country Championships. As you can probably surmise, we at Glenbard West did not like York and they did not like us (we beat them only that one time in my four years)! Coach Newton did not like Jim Arnold and Jim Arnold did not like Joe Newton. I was the individual State Champion and York was the Team Champion (G.W. 4th, 3 points out of the last trophy) As I was walking back across the floor of the gym after receiving my State medal, the entire York team started to walk from the other end of the gym towards me!?! What were they doing? We don't talk to each other, we don't high five, we don't acknowledge each other after race, we don't like each other!!!!! Well that "pack of Dukes" met me at mid court, lifted me up on their shoulders, carried me off the court to where Coach Newton was sitting and set me down in front of him, my enemy, my nemesis, "the bad guy"!!!! And what does Joe Newton do.....he stands up, extends his hand to shake mine and says "Popejoy, you are a credit to the State of Illinois and to the West Suburban Conference...all of us at York couldn't be more proud and honored the have you be our 1968 State Individual Champion" I was flabbergasted that the coach of such a bitter rival could be such a gentleman and show such class. It was truly me who was honored to receive such a greeting from Joe!
My heart is so filled with sadness and loss, yet at the same time, soaring like an eagle for ALL that Joe Newton did for me and soooo many others! My life was enriched by him in ways that I could never begin to quantify...but will forever appreciate and treasure for the rest of my days."
Mike Durkin- 9-time Big 10 Champion, NCAA Silver Medalist, 2-Time Olympian
"During My freshman year at Holy Cross in 1967, the District Qualifier for the State Meet was held at my high school course at Schiller Woods. We had a little bump for a hill and had to make a lagoon. It was an up and down course. I didn't race that year but got exposed to all those green colors of the York team. I learned they were the team to aspire to get over...they set the bar very high.
My sophomore year I got my head handed to me me, but in Junior year I was able to compete against them.
There was this Phys Ed teacher in my school who lived in Elmhurst who always told me I'd never beat those York guys. Well that was a motivating factor for me and it made me more determined! You always knew you had a great day if you beat York's #1 Runner.
Years later when Coach Newton set up the High School International Track Meet, Newton asked me to be the emcee at the Dinner.
I've been able to keep my friendship with Joe throughout the years. We were very close to Joe. Every year my friends and I would make it to the state meet no matter what, and we always made it a high priority to "Kiss" Joe's ring. In later years he had to be put up on a picnic table like and Emperor on a throne!
He always treated me with respect. I will miss him."
Jim Spivey- NCAA Champion, 3-time Olympian, 2 Time Olympic Trials Champion, Pan-Am Games Silver Medalist, 1987 World Championships Bronze Medalist.
"In September 1975, I was asked to go out for the Fenton High School cross country team coach John Kurtz, still the head coach after 49 years. I remember attending the Du Page county meet, and York high school showed up with over 100 boys, all with crew cuts, and 5 buses - 2 of the buses had the school's band. When racing, the Kelly green uniforms, many hanging off the shoulders of very thin runners in the Sophomore race, were everywhere. This was my first experience of seeing first hand, the "Long Green Line".
At the 1976 District track meet to qualify for the Illinois State meet, I followed Jim Keen of Riverside Brookfield through the mile. My PR was 9:41.6, and the State qualifying time was 9:38.0. Ron Craker of York was trying to break 9 minutes, and had gone out hard. He fell short by only a few seconds, but Keen's pacing helped a 108 pound Sophomore with wire rim glasses, run 9:21.7 (9:16 3200m) and finish 4th, and advance to the State meet.
After the meet, I asked Coach Kurtz if It would be appropriate to introduce myself to Mr Newton and the 2 mile winner, Craker. I'm sure Mr Kurtz said something to the effect, that Mr Newton admires runners who train hard and success. I walked up, very slowly and very unsure of my words, and said congratulations to the Senior Ron, and Mr Newton. I can remember Newton saying: "So you are the Sophomore we have been hearing about?!" "John, you had better take good care of him and don't drop him!"
Did he really hear of me before that introduction? At the time, it did not matter - just being "known" by the legendary coach, 3 miles South of my high school, was enough to build confidence in me. I later asked coach Kurtz, if I ran a 1000 miles over the Summer before my Junior year, would he, like York high school, give me a long sleeve white t-shirt with Fenton High School 1000 mile club on it? What coach would ever say no?!
Beginning on June 1st 1976, I ran 1013 miles in my first Summer on running.
Later, Coach Newton would have me come and speak to his cross country teams from time to time, as my wife and I lived in Glen Ellyn, 6 miles due West. When practice was over, every athlete came up to Mr Newton, perched in the edge of his chair for some, reclining for others, and shook hands and called each by his nickname. When I asked him about a specific name, and the origin - he would say his brother was a hard worker, and carried it down; or he was always late for practice. Each name had a meaning more than just a simple call."
The final addition is from Joe Newton's son, Thomas Newton:
Good Evening All,
Regarding the passing of my father, Joseph R. Newton III. The Family is asking in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Joe Newton Scholarship Award of Excellence. Donations can be made online by going to the Dupage Foundation Website at dupagefoundation.organd do a search for the Joe Newton Scholarship Award of Excellence. Thank you all once again for your concern and well wishes.

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