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Newland’s spirit lives on in Classic

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Honoring a Medford legend, 22nd annual Bob Newland Classic gives freshmen, sophomores chance to shine

No matter the year, no matter the sport, Larry Slessler can remember one distinct thing that made former Medford High School coach Bob Newland so unique.

“I don’t think I ever heard him yell,” said Slessler, who graduated from Medford High in 1957, Newland’s last year with the Black Tornado. “He had an ability to somehow motivate and to get you to do your best without raising his voice.”

There were plenty of wins. Plenty of titles, too.

But it was the impact beyond the arena of competition in which Newland’s former athletes still carry with them as much as they remember the success they had.

“Everybody has their own story about what Bob Newland meant to him,” said Slessler, who still lives in Medford. “I don’t even know how to put it. It’s such an impact as a young man because you sometimes doubt who you are or are trying to figure out who you are and here’s this man who has so much ability to make you want to do the very best you could.

“He made you believe you had worth. It didn’t matter who you were on the team, you could have been the last man in everything, he believed you still had value to the team.”

The event named in Newland’s honor is making its return this week.

Back in its usual mid-April spot on the local high school track and field schedule after last year’s abbreviated spring season pushed it two weeks later than usual, the 22nd annual Bob Newland Track and Field Classic returns today at South Medford High School.

Field events are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m., with running events set to begin at 4. The final race of the day is set to take place around 9:10 p.m.

The brainchild of former South Medford standout Perry Custance (as his senior project in 2000) and then-Panthers coach Bill Rowan, the Newland Classic is for freshmen and sophomores only, with the original goal of giving the younger high school athletes the spotlight at a meet under the lights still very much intact.

Sixteen schools are part of this year’s meet, including host South Medford, North Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point, St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian.

“If you take a look at the meet records, there’s been some outstanding athletes who have come through here over the years,” said South Medford coach David Kirkpatrick, who ran in the meet in 2006 and 2007 when he was at Cascade Christian. “I got to run in the meet as a high school athlete myself, so I know what it means to run under the lights and have that kind of special performance where as a freshman or a sophomore all eyes are on you. It’s a really, really neat idea and concept.”

Newland’s list of accomplishments as a coach is so long that simply rattling off will take you at least a few minutes.

In his 10 years coaching track at Medford High, Newland guided his team to nine state titles (1948-1951 and 1953-1957).

“He has to be the most successful high school track coach in Oregon ever because I don’t think anybody has ever had a run like that,” said Slessler, who also had Newland as a coach in football and basketball. “We just beat everybody.”

Following his departure from Medford in the summer of 1957, Newland moved to Eugene and eventually worked with another local legend, former University of Oregon coach and Medford High graduate Bill Bowerman. Newland, who went on to work with Bowerman at Nike, was the longtime meet director for U.S. Track & Field at Hayward Field.

Newland was described by one past president of the U.S. Track and Field Writers Association as the “best meet director in the United States” upon his induction into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

As Slessler notes, Newland just had a way with people.

The goal was to bring the best out of them no matter what that may be.

It didn’t matter who you were and what your association to the track team was.

“We were getting ready for the Hayward Relays and a couple of managers were there and he sat down with them and talked to them for about 20 minutes about how important their job was,” recalled Slessler. “By the time he was done, those guys were just on cloud nine. He had this incredible ability to make you believe in yourself and work hard and that you didn’t want to let coach down.”

Over his decade with the Black Tornado, Newland’s athletes saw him put in countless hours on and off the track to ensure they could perform to the top of their ability.

“I don’t know how he did it all,” said Slessler of Newland, who died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 67.

In this year’s meet, the boys 3,000-meter run looks to be one of the best races of the night, with Crater freshman Josiah Tostenson part of the deep field. Tostenson’s Crater teammate, sophomore Sean Garnica, is also a part of the field and enters with the ninth-best 3,000 time (9:00.49) in Class 5A this season.

“That will be a special race,” said Kirkpatrick.

South Medford sophomore Jazz Hernandez could prove to be the busiest runner at this year’s Newland Classic, competing in four events — the 4x100 and 4x400 relays as well as the boys 200 and 400.

“I expect him to be in the 50 or 51 range (in the 400) depending on the conditions,” said Kirkpatrick. “We’re gearing him up to make him our athlete of the meet.”

Another Crater distance runner, sophomore Jeffrey Hellman, enters as the top seed in the boys 800 with a time of 1:58.77, which ranks fourth in 5A this season.

North Medford sophomore Terrell Kim enters as the top seed in both the boys discus and the shot put. Kim’s throw of 47 feet, 8 1/2 inches in the shot put in Wednesday’s dual meet against South Eugene ranks as the fifth-best in Class 6A this season.

“He’s starting to blossom,” said North Medford coach Piet Voskes of Kim. “He’s more confident in the ring. He’s always been a natural athlete and his athleticism is an asset. It also is sometimes a detriment because he’d get so aggressive in the ring he would lose some of that control. But I think he’s been able to contain it a little bit and he’s more in control.”

On the girls side, South Medford sophomore Brooke Fairbanks and the Grants Pass duo of freshman Zanai Vainuku-Johnson and sophomore Brooke Anderson are expected to be the top competitors in the girls 100-meter dash.

They are responsible for three of the best 100 times in the Southwest Conference this season.

North freshman Paije Carpenter — who is in her first year going out for track — is currently ranked second in the SWC in the triple jump after soaring to 32-3 on Wednesday against South Eugene.

Also for North, freshman Olivia Boger will be part of a deep field in the girls 400 that also includes Grants Pass freshman Callie Brandes and Crater freshman Sage Winslow.

“It’s just a unique meet in that for many it’s a coming out meet,” said Voskes. “It’s their opportunity to shine. We remind kids that freshmen play football Thursday night, not Friday night at Spiegelberg, and it’s the only time of the year that a track kid, in essence, gets to compete against kids their same age. For a 14-year-old, that’s a big deal — especially on the men’s side.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Josiah Tostenson, shown in action during the recent Medford Rotary Relays, expects to lead a strong group of freshmen and sophomores at the 22nd annual Bob Newland Track and Field Classic.
Bob Newland, former Medford High track and field coach
Bob Newland Classic, twilight track meet hosted by South Medford High School 4/22/11. - Andy Atkinson