One of the foremost legends in Illinois high school track has decided to call it a career after one last season, as York High School's longtime boys' cross-country coach Joe Newton announced his retirement through his son, Thomas.
"It is a big deal that Coach Newton is retiring," Rob Wagner, assistant principal for athletics at York High School in Elmhurst, said. "He began his coaching career in 1954. This will be his 61st season at York. It will be difficult for it not to be a distraction. Yet it is well deserved for a legend and mentor to many. I have all the confidence in the world that our staff and cross-country team will be focused and work hard throughout the season."
Newton's long and astounding career as York's boys' cross-country coach began in 1960. Since then, he's led the team to 28 Illinois state titles, which is the most for any Illinois high school in any sport. The school has finished at least third in the sport in 44 of Newton's 56 years. His years of coaching even inspired a documentary film, The Long Green Line (named for the team's nickname), which came out in 2008.
"Coach Newton is a legend in American sports history," Wagner said. "I am not aware of any coach, professional, collegiate or high school, that has the winning percentage and success rate as Coach Newton. He has something like a 98 percent winning percentage in all cross-country and track dual meets. His teams have won 28 state titles. And numerous second- and third-place state trophies. The list of accomplishments goes on and on. Honestly, there are many to list."
But time has caught up with the 87-year-old Newton, who is fighting severe arthritis that makes it incredibly difficult to stand for long periods of time. In more recent years, even sitting for long stretches becomes uncomfortable, which led to the decision. In this last season coaching, Newton will be a co-coach of the team, with boys' track coach and cross-country assistant coach Charlie Kern being the other coach. After this season, Kern will take over. Wagner said that will ensure a smooth transition.
"Coach Kern has been part of the program for years," Wagner said. "He has worked under Coach Newton as his right hand. Coach Kern is knowledgeable and passionate with students and the sport of cross-country. He is a role model to students, he walks the walk and leads by example. We have an excellent coaching staff that has worked together for years."
But while Kern is taking over the program, it's clear that Newton has become nearly synonymous with the program.
"Coach Newton is York High School," Wagner said. "When you mention York, people talk about Joe Newton and our cross-country program. The Long Green Line is all about Coach Newton and what he has created."