LA CROSSE, Wis. — Wartburg head coach Marcus Newsom may be more nervous this week than his athletes, but not for the obvious reason.

As reigning national champions, his top-ranked Knights open their title defense Thursday at the 2013 NCAA Division III women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship.

The three-day meet runs through Saturday at Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Roger Harring Stadium, and is not theirs, nor their coach’s, first time through the title ringer. The Wartburg women are pursing their third NCAA crown in five seasons, all under Newsom’s tutelage, but this year, his biggest fan is present to witness it.

Mom Dottie Newsom has trekked north from Kansas City, Ks. to watch, for the first time, her son coach a national championship meet.

“I just want to make her proud,” the son said. “And how I do that is just being the person she raised me to be. I owe it to her.”

Newsom’s raising of exceptional track and field athletes mimics the raising he received from Dottie. Growing up in Kansas City’s challenging inner city, he and his older sister, Natalie, had parameters, expectations and much maternal love.

“I watched her walk tall and raise two kids in a very tough environment by herself — with structure, with discipline, but most importantly, it’s just her passion for life,” Newsom said of his mom. “And so that’s the way I coach. I tell people all the time the best coach I’ve ever had in my life is my mother.”

Wartburg’s women won the 2005 and 2009 Division III outdoor titles and finished as the 2011 runner-up behind Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Their indoor success runs parallel; they won the 2009, ’10 and ’12 NCAA indoor titles and were runner-ups in ’08 and ’11. The Knights finished fourth in this year’s earlier indoor championships.

Newsom, who oversees both the men’s and women’s teams, has been Wartburg’s head coach since 1998. Two weeks ago, the women claimed their 14th consecutive and 17th overall Iowa Conference championship, while the Wartburg men won their seventh conference title. Thus far, the Wartburg men’s best finish under Newsom is seventh, at the 2005 NCAA Division III outdoor championships.

It is the women who have captured more headlines, churning out All-American performances, school, conference and Division III records, all while attracting top-level recruits.

“When I took over [as] head coach, I said I would like for us to be in the position to be in the conversation of having one of the best track and field programs in the country, regardless of division,” Newsom said. “That was one of my goals and I wanted to do it with a lot of passion and structure and discipline because I think we all need that. And the young ladies I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to coach, they’ve responded to that.”

Himself a former national qualifier and letter-winner, Newsom competed in track and field and played football, first at Bethany Community College in Eldorado, Ks. then at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Ks. He holds a masters degree from the University of Northern Iowa and began his coaching career at his undergraduate alma mater. He arrived at Wartburg in 1995, as an assistant football and track and field coach.

Newsom says the school’s support of Wartburg’s track program, coupled with his insistence that athletes view their sport as a team endeavor rather than an individual one, has grounded Wartburg’s tradition. And, citing the influence of his mother, older sister and grandmother, he says athletes respond to his history of being around strong women.

“It’s a complete blessing to be in that position, to have women year in and year out, who just step up and step in, and are like, ‘OK, it’s my time now,’ and not be selfish,” Newsom said.

One example is Wartburg’s 4 X 400 relay team. The group is after its seventh consecutive outdoor national title in that event, all with different lineups. Newsom says those athletes police themselves.

“I haven’t had any coaching decisions on the four-by-four in years,” he said. “They make that decision. They know on that day who should be the top four. Now, the great thing about our depth is that may change from week to week. So you’ve got to continue to work and work hard and work with passion.”

That’s Dottie Newsom’s rule of the road. It also was his sister Natalie’s. Although Newsom is excited that his mother will attend this week, it’s a bit bittersweet. Natalie, three years older and the inspiration behind her brother’s track and field career (he watched her run Amateur Athletic Union events as a child), passed away the day after the 2012 Division III indoor championships; she’d long battled multiple sclerosis.
Newsom’s grandmother passed away this past winter, after a similar battle with bone cancer. As the caregiver for both, Dottie had been unable to attend her son’s events.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Newsom said. “It’s been a hard year, but at the same time, my men and my women at Wartburg have been tremendous really helping me work through those losses in my life.”