Good morning, troops. It's Monday, Dec. 11.
Even though Joe Newton coached Mike Lynn as a high school runner about 50 years ago, he still can't call him "Joe."
"I have to call him 'Mr. Newton' out of respect," said Lynn, who for almost 40 years has been cross country coach at Tremont. "It just doesn't sound right to refer to him as 'Joe.'
"We couldn't call him 'Coach.' If you said to him, 'Hey, coach,' he'd say, 'What do you want, student?'"
Coaches, students and others from all over Illinois and far beyond are calling Newton one of the greatest in his profession.
Newton, the 57-season boys cross country coach at Elmhurst York, died Saturday. He was 88.
York won 28 state championships during Newton's tenure, which ran from 1960 to last year. "The Long Green Line," as his York teams were known, won 12 second-place and four third-place trophies. He also coached the Dukes to a track and field state title in 2000.
Considered a master motivator, Newton's coaching earned acclaim far and wide. He was the first high school coach to assist U.S. marathon runners in an Olympics, in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.
Of those state titles, 25 came at Detweiller Park in Peoria, which has played host to the state meet since its move in 1970 from the University of Illinois.
As motivation for his runners, Newton often used the promise of a post-meet visit to the old Hardee's fast-food restaurant on McClure Avenue in Peoria. No Hardee's was close to Elmhurst, one of Chicago's western suburbs.
But that Champaign-Urbana state-meet era is when Lynn ran for York. He graduated in 1969. Although he never was one of York's top runners, Lynn believes he received a top education from Newton, and not just in cross country.
"He was the consummate teacher," Lynn said Monday morning. "I probably learned more biology from him than I did in the classroom. He would go through workouts and and explain why you were going to do it.
"I don't remember specific things, but he would talk about being great, the concepts of dedication and discipline and work ethic. And if you did those things, you'd be great."
Lynn thought Newton was great from the first time they met, in the summer of 1965. A track runner whose longest race was 100 meters, Lynn and a fellow eighth-grade friend checked out what Newton called the York summer track club.
It turned out the "club" was for off-season workouts for cross country, where races usually are about 3 miles. No matter, at least to Lynn.
"I didn't know about my friend, but I was totally fired up," Lynn said about the first time he heard Newton speak. "I told my parents, 'There's this coach there who's really exciting. I'm going to have to get my hair cut.'"
Short hairstyles were required of Newton's runners, who each season numbered well over 100. That's unheard of at most schools, even those with York's enrollment of about 2,700.
Tremont is significantly smaller, but that hasn't prevented Lynn from building a solid program of his own. The perennially strong Turks won a Class A boys state championship in 1990 — York won the Class AA title that year — and also have second- and third-place trophies.
Newton's indirect influence still is apparent in the Tremont program, according to Lynn. So is Newton's direct influence on Lynn's life, evidently.
Lynn, a Western Illinois University graduate, was more than effusive about his old high school coach.
"I learned early on that I can't be Joe Newton," Lynn said. "I can't do things the way he did, and he'd be the first to say, 'Of course you can't, everybody's different.' What I did get from him were values and love for the sport.
"Anybody who knows me knows I can talk all day about cross country. And I got that from him. That's what I pass on. Those two things are what I use, and those were the things that touched me the most."
Newton even touched someone who is considered one of the greatest distance runners.
Click on the video below to hear and see what four-time Olympic medalist Sebastian Coe has to say about Newton. Coe was Newton's houseguest and trained at York before he went to Los Angeles and won the 1,500 meters in the 1984 Olympics.