Cross Country: As one run continues, another may have begun 

Story Image York coach Joe Newton cheers and dances with the band after the team's championship vicotry in the 3A boys state cross country meet. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media

Updated: November 5, 2012 4:08PM

PEORIA — On a perfect day for cross country — cool and calm — on the banks of the Illinois River, one remarkable run continued and another one might have begun Saturday.

York gave coaching legend Joe Newton his 28th state championship in the Class 3A boys race, while Jones’ boys ended the Public League’s title drought by winning in Class 2A to become the first champ from the city since Lane in 1963.

Afterward came smiles, a little dancing and some tears from a pair of coaches separated by several generations but united by a fierce dedication to a sport often viewed as just a way to condition for other sports.

One of them is Newton, an iconic figure in American distance running whose first title came 50 years ago. Since then, the Dukes have had more success than any other school in any other sport in Illinois.

They have qualified for state 50 times in 51 seasons, won those 28 titles and added 16 more trophies (12 runner-up, four third place).

Along the way, they have demonstrated that cross country doesn’t have to be a “minor” sport. As is their tradition, the York runners showed up for Saturday’s awards ceremony in white formal wear. On hand as usual at state was the York pep band, which got Newton and everyone else in the York running community up and dancing.

Newton, who came to York in 1956 and became head cross country coach in 1960, hasn’t forgotten the first title.

“I can remember thinking, walking off the dais, ‘I’ve reached the top of the mountain, this will never happen again,’ ” Newton said. “Now we’ve reached 28.”

He’s done it by figuring how to make good runners great ones and by offering an opportunity join the Long Green Line to anyone willing to work. In a sport that’s barely hanging on at some schools, York has around 180 runners of all ability levels.

The question is inevitable for a coach who’s 83 years old: How much longer?

The answer is: Why stop now?

“I love what I’m doing,” said Newton, who retired from teaching in 1999 and gave up coaching track after winning state in 2000. “At my age, it gives me something to do. My wife and I go to Phoenix [after the season]. I recover for five months, come back, watch a little track, start over again. ...

“I can hardly wait to get to school every day because the kids keep me young. Other people gamble of do other things. I coach, that’s my hobby.”

Coaching is more of a mission for Andrew Adelmann, who along with assistant Ben Mahon, has engineered Jones’ remarkable rise in just four seasons.

When IHSA officials confirmed the Eagles’ victory, Adelmann was visibly moved.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what they accomplished in the face of so much adversity throughout four years ... in a district and a city [where] distance running is not highly valued,” he said.

“We set out, first day of practice, my first year and those guys’ first year, [saying], ‘We’re going to win a state championship.’ There’s a lot of people that doubted it along the way. But none of those people were in that locker room.”

Adelmann hasn’t had a chance to sit down and talk running with Newton, who’s old enough to be his grandfather. But he wouldn’t mind emulating the state’s greatest coach.

“I make the joke a lot, ‘I wouldn’t be disappointed if I was 88 years old here, sitting on a chair and I’m still coaching at Jones,’” Adelmann said. “To me this is the greatest job in the world now. This is my dream job. If I have that longevity ...

“I hope this is the start of a long run of titles for us.”

Joe Newton and York aren’t done yet. But someone should carry forward their legacy. Why not Andrew Adelmann and why not Jones?

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