BILLINGS — Even during these times when athletics are on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, Billings Skyview graduate Dennis Newell feels fortunate to be coaching cross country and track and field at the University of Mary.
Newell, who achieved All-America status 10 times while competing at Black Hills State University, is the head cross country and the track and field coach at Mary.
The 1995 Skvyiew graduate was in the Navy before attending Black Hills State (South Dakota) from 1999-2004. He then received his Masters degree from the University of North Dakota in 2006.
Newell first arrived at Mary in 2006. This is his fourth year as head track coach. He was promoted to the head coach position for men’s and women’s cross country in the summer of 2013, after serving as the associate head coach.
“I love it. I am very passionate about it,” Newell told 406mtsports.com in a phone interview Monday. “I don’t consider it a job. It’s a hobby I get paid for. It’s very enjoyable. I get to help men and women reach their goals and we get to travel. It is sports and athletics. It is fun and it fits the passions I have in my life. It’s rewarding. I feel like I get to give back and help others.”
Newell explained that he enjoys the opportunity to be able to pursue his passion of coaching at Mary.
“They’ve been good to me. I’ve stayed here and that’s a good sign. And they’ve kept me here, and that’s a good sign,” Newell said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here. We have some good resources to be successful and it’s a good university. It’s a Catholic university, a private school and they really look out for the faculty, the staff and the students. … I really enjoy being here.”
The Williston, North Dakota, native has achieved coach of the year honors from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference nine times. He’s also been honored eight times as the Central Region coach of the year. In 2013, he was the NCAA D-II indoor track and field national women’s assistant coach of the year.
Overall, the Marauders have won 22 Northern Sun cross country and track and field titles during Newell’s tenure and he’s coached over 250 all-conference performers and more than 100 conference champions.
In 2017 and 2018, his women’s cross country teams were second at the NCAA Division II national championships. Ten athletes whom Newell has coached have won an individual national championship and he’s helped 148 athletes earn All-America recognition.
Newell said he has outstanding student-athletes on both the cross country and track and field rosters.
“We have good kids. Our cross country and track and field kids typically have some of the highest GPAs on campus,” he said. “They are smart kids, compassionate and hard-working. It’s a fun environment. The student-athletes and staff I work with make it very enjoyable for me. They have a lot of attributes you need to be successful in this sport.”
Newell is married to Catelin, his wife of six years. The two have four children: Piper (11), Christian (8), Crosby (5) and Jonah (2).
The family has an active lifestyle.
“We go to the Black Hills every summer and spend a week or two down there,” Newell said. “We like to walk, hike, go on bike rides and be as active as we can be. For us, it’s about keeping our kids involved. With four kids, we want to keep up with their academics and athletics.”
Coming back to visit Montana is important to Newell. His parents still have a home in Billings.
“We try to get back for Christmas and once in the summer to see family and friends,” Newell said. “We like to get the kids back there and expose them to some mountains we don’t have in North Dakota.”
On this year’s Mary men’s track and field roster, there are five listed from Montana in Harrison Bentzel of Billings West, Jesse Hatler of Great Falls High, Andrew Pike of Big Timber, Winston Platt of Billings West and Josh Wulfekuhle of Thompson Falls. Bentzel is also on the men’s cross country team. Cali Modglin of Great Falls CMR is on the women’s track and field roster.
“We’ve had good luck with Montana kids because their values are very similar to what we look for and those values are what it takes to be successful,” said Newell, adding, “They also understand the weather. They won’t get out of Montana and be like, ‘It’s cold up here.’ It’s cold. It’s North Dakota. Montana has some cold days. They have very similar values to what we have over here.”
In all of his time coaching in Bismarck, last weekend felt a little strange for Newell.
“We were supposed to be at Black Hills State on Saturday. It was 58 degrees and sunny,” he said. “I was mowing my lawn and I should have been at a track meet.”
For the most part, sports in America — from Little League to the pros — are at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Seasons, and offseason programs on college campuses, have been canceled in an effort to aid in the act of slowing the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing.
Nine Mary athletes were set to compete at the NCAA D-II Indoor Track and Field Championships before they were canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“It was tough. It really was,” Newell said. “It wasn’t easy, but again you move on and that’s all you can do. You realize this is bigger than athletics right now and you have to move on and stay safe.
“We had a lot of kids in good places. We had a relay and two individuals who I thought could win national titles and they didn’t get to compete and that was tough. But you realize athletics is one part of life. You put it in perspective and realize human safety is No. 1. It is tough, but we’ll get back to athletics when it’s time and when it’s safe and when everyone is ready and move on from there.”
Courses at Mary have transitioned to online only during this time because of the virus outbreak.
Currently Newell said he is still working, but from home.
He does have communication with his athletes through email, texts, phone calls and video conferencing.
“We are treating this like the offseason and are taking some down time and will build back up for the fall and hopefully we have a fall season.
“Even right now I’m working and getting stuff prepared for the fall cross country season and recruits. I’m still talking to recruits and trying to get them involved.”
Newell said one message he’s had for his student-athletes is to try and make the best out of the situation.
“Hit the reset button and do something fun with your family and spend quality time with the people that you don’t normally get to spend quality time with,” he said.
One lesson the squad at Mary is learning from the current ordeal is “athletics is just one part of life, it’s not life itself.”
Newell knows eventually things will return to normal and he’ll once again return to his routine, and passion for coaching. And for that, he feels fortunate.
Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL
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