The Illinois running community has produced some famous coaches over the years. Decades ago there was Ted Haydon, the former leader of the University of Chicago Track Club. His athletes included world record holders such as Rick Wolhuter and many others.
In high school track and cross country, there is no more famous coach than Joe Newton, longtime leader and recently deceased legend of the York High School cross country and track program. His cross country teams dominated the sport for decades, winning more than two dozen state titles. Even when they didn’t win, they often could be found placing in the top two or three teams in the state.
Then there is Al Carius, the former University of Illinois runner who went on to coach at North Central College, where he built an amazing Division III cross country program whose record at nationals rivals that of the state championships won by Joe Newton at York.
Ted Haydon was known for providing a vehicle for top-performing track athletes to compete. Newton was known for giving young runners a focus and discipline unparalleled in running nationwide. Al Carius has long been known for taking callow, often undeveloped athletes and guiding them to national-level performances.
I never met Ted Haydon, but my son ultimately attended the University of Chicago where I learned a bit about how that school fosters an open-faced belief in achievement. So while Ted Haydon coached at the university, he also saw beyond it. His UC_Track Club athletes carried the name of that school around the world.
Convergence with greatness
In 1984, I qualified to represent the Prairie District in the inaugural Illinois State Games, an Olympic style competition featuring all sorts of sports. We ran the qualifying races at York High School, where the presence of Joe Newton was clear in its organized structure and the love of running and competition. The other coach who guided the team was North Central’s Al Carius.
I already knew Joe Newton through association with a podiatrist named Dr. John Durkin as well as my former coach from high school, the late Trent Richards. Durkin had already earned a reputation for producing orthotics for the likes of Sebastian Coe, the great British runner, and many other world-class runners.
Durkin and Newton decided to collaborate on a book titled Running to the Top of the Mountain. Durkin’s section focused on running biomechanics and injury prevention. Newton wrote about training and motivation. I was hired to illustrate the book and produce the cover.
From what I could see, working on that book was both a labor of love and a source of torment for the two men. Years later when I’d gone on to publish several of my own books, I thought about the two of them grinding it out. They seemed to find it a painful process. At least that was the impression I got from hearing them talk their respective chapters.
Years later I learned that the two of them got tagged for plagiarizing certain aspects of the book. That struck me as odd because I’d also heard Newton give inspirational talks. He was a fantastic speaker. Yet the pressures of publishing a book, just like the pressures of running, can drive people to do strange things.
Mistakes like that do not necessarily diminish the life works of a person. That all came to mind because Coach Joe Newton just passed away last week. To examine his legacy, there is no question Newton inspired thousands of young runners to high achievement in the sports of cross country and track. Over the years, some have criticized the York program for perhaps putting too much emphasis on high school cross country to the detriment of those runners long term.
That’s a question each and every runner who came through the program has to answer for themselves. Very few people ever earn the thrill of winning a state championship in anything, much less an endurance sport. So whether runners choose to continue the sport after that period in their lives is a very personal decision.
Summers spent running 1500-2000 miles were part of the formula for York’s high school success. Having an appetite for training beyond that can prove difficult for runners raised in the discipline and sacrifice of that sort of program. Yet lessons learned from such experiences also last a lifetime. Like earning an Eagle Scout ranking or killing it in academics for a Valedictorian honor, the world of free will offers a ton of options.
The Carius legacy
That is why it is so interesting to compare and think about the career of North Central’s Al Carius as a coach. In five decades of coaching in college cross country, Carius repeatedly has taken high school runners with mediocre resumes and weak PRs and turned them into national champions. A kid might come into the program with a 10:20 two mile PR and emerge from college having run under nine-minutes for the distance.
It’s all a fascinating study in how great coaches operate and how they have chosen to influence their runners and by proxy, the world. These three great coaches from the state of Illinois went about earning their legacies in different ways.
Three coaches. Same sports. Different worlds.