Coach hits 16th season with eyes on the prize

By Gus Bode

Men€™s golf coach Leroy Newton, right, accompanied by neighbor Stewart Gilmore, left, manager for Southern Illinois Golf Association, throws a ball Tuesday to a player during practice at Crab Orchard Golf Course in Carterville. The 2011-2012 season marks Newtons 16th coaching year at SIU. After the 2004 season, Newton was named Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year. Brooke Grace | Daily Egyptian

The SIU men’s golf coach entered his 16th season with the goal of national recognition for his alma mater.

Coach Leroy Newton said his team for the 2011-2012 season has the potential to do what no other team at SIU has done before.

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“I would say the goal for this team is to win the conference title and national championship,” Newton said. “We haven’t been able to do that yet, but we’ve placed second before. Overall, we have some great kids that work hard and play well.”

Newton, 1967 SIU alumnus, said he came to the university on a basketball and baseball scholarship and played for two years.  He broke his right arm during the baseball season and said it was the turning point for his career on the ball diamond. He said he wasn’t big enough to be a basketball player. With this in mind, Newton said his dream would be fulfilled through playing golf and coaching students who have a love for the sport.

Newton, who grew up on a farm in Hurs-Bush, was 29 years old when he started playing golf. After he received his master’s degree in administration from the University of Illinois, Newton pursued a career as a teacher, was the principal of the Cambria Elementary School in Carterville and then the head golf coach of the Salukis.

Newton has successfully built a winning tradition during his years at SIU, and the 2010 season was no exception. The Salukis finished second at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships for the second time in three years.

This was not the end of Newton’s success, as he consistently positioned the Salukis in the top of the MVC.

From 2004-2010, the Salukis finished in the top four of the MVC Championships and Newton was named MVC Coach of the Year after the 2004 season.

According to the SIU athletics website, Newton is the second-longest tenured head coach to lead the Salukis, behind Lynn Holder who coached SIU for 30 years from the program’s inception in 1947 to 1976.

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During Newton’s time at SIU, he has continued to develop successful teams, both athletically and academically, by producing nine all-MVC players, six academic all-conference selections and the program’s first Academic All-American in 2008.

In addition to having an impact as a coach, Newton has influenced others in the SIU athletics department.

Chet Savage, deputy associate director for external affairs, said Newton is a respectable man who has certainly made a huge impact with the men’s golf program, working hard to ensure his team gets better everyday.

“Coach is constantly in his office every single day thinking of ways to make his team better,” Savage said. “He makes sure his guys are doing what they’re supposed to do whether in the classroom, on the golf course and even the community.”

Savage said Newton is exactly what we’re looking for as a coach.

Prior to coaching at SIU, Newton served on the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors for 10 years and was the president of the board in 1993 and 1994. Following his retirement in 1994, Newton took over the golf team at John A. Logan College.

At Logan, Newton turned the program around in just two seasons. He brought the Volunteers to national distinction with a number two rating in the NJCAA polls and produced four national qualifiers before moving over to SIU for the 1996-97 season.

The men’s golf program has grown in both reputation and stature, and Newton said he is ambitious about the remainder of this season.

“If we continue to work hard, then we’ll be rewarded for that,” Newton said. “We must maintain focus andhungry for what’s to come.”

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