All In The Family: Newells a huge part of North track and field program

For one Columbus family, track and field truly is a family affair.

Matt Newell is a senior on the Columbus North boys team, and his sisters, junior Brianna Newell and freshman Sierra Newell, are on the girls team. Their father Dan Newell is the pole vault coach for the boys and girls teams.

Prior to the season, the Bull Dogs found themselves in need of a hurdles coach. So Dan recommended his father Neal, and Neal jumped at the chance to become a part of the North program.

“It’s exciting,” Dan said. “It’s just neat to be a part and give back to this community and be supportive of all the kids involved. It’s fun to share this experience with my dad. He’s 76, but he’s doing really well.”

Neal moved to Columbus from Pennsylvania prior to his junior year and played football and ran track for Columbus High School. He was MVP of the football team as a senior in 1962 and ran the 400 and 4×100 relay in track.

“One of the famous people I ran with was Butch Wade, the basketball star,” Neal said. “He was 6-4 running beside me, and his elbow would hit you right in the side of the head.”

Neal went on to play football and run track at Franklin College. He learned to run the hurdles and had the school’s 400-meter hurdles record for a few years until the late Terry Hoeppner, who would go on to coach football at Indiana University, broke it.

Since retiring, Neal has driven a bus for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. for about 10 years. The past few years, he has driven the cross-country and track teams to their meets.

“It’s very nice,” Neal said. “I drive a school bus, so I get up about 4 o’clock in the morning. So during the season, when I done driving at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and go to practice until 6 o’clock at night, I’m kind of old. I’m 76, so I’m up against the Governor on that kind of stuff.”

Neal’s oldest son Mark was a football star at North and now is the principal at Columbus East. Younger sons Dan and Neal ran hurdles for the Bull Dogs.

Dan also was a two-time state place-winner in the pole vault and held the school-record of 14 feet, 9 inches from 1993-2004. He followed in the footsteps of Neal, who was a Navy A-6 intruder pilot, by joining the Navy after graduation. Dan eventually became a Navy Seal.

Pictured are Columbus North pole vault coach Dan Newell, senior Matt Newell and hurdles coach Neal Newell. Neal and Dan served in the Navy, and Matt is headed there to run cross-country and track.

Columbus North’s Matt Newell overtakes Center Grove’s Jarret Rockwell in the 4×800-meter relay during Thursday’s boys track sectional at Columbus North High School.

The Republic file photo

Now, Matt will become the third generation of Newells to join the Navy when he heads to Annapolis this summer to run cross-country and track for the Midshipmen. He’s happy to have them and his sisters around for his senior track season.

“It’s definitely nice to have my family support,” Matt said. “There’s no special treatment involved. We’re all teammates at the beginning of the day, and the family aspect comes in when you get home and you’re talking about the races.”

Dan is in his third year as North’s pole vault coach after stepping in just before the 2019 season after longtime pole vault coach Dale Stelting passed away.

Sierra is one of Dan’s pupils in the pole vault. She tied her personal-best at 9-0 in Tuesday’s Franklin Sectional to qualify for regional.

Columbus North’s Sierra Newell pole vaults during the Conference Indiana track meet at Bloomington North High School in Bloomington, Ind., Friday, April 29, 2022.

The Republic file photo

“It’s been exciting,” Dan said. “It’s been hard as a dad to coach your child sometimes, but we get along well. I’ve coached her as early as middle school. Seventh- and eighth-grade, I started her in pole vault, but it’s nice to have her here now and see her improving throughout the year.”

Sierra also leaped a personal-best 16-3 3/4 in the long jump and qualified for regional in that event, as well.

“I think it’s really awesome just being able to compete and luckily making it that far,” Sierra said. “I’m just lucky to have made it through.”

Matt and Brianna, meanwhile, have been distance running stars since middle school. Their mother Christina is a former Boston Marathon qualifier and started the Pathfinders, a youth cross-country program within the Columbus Running Club.

Matt helped the Bull Dog boys win a cross-country team to state team title in 2020, and Brianna helped the girls to a team title last fall.

Brianna Newell of Columbus North wins the 1,600 meters during Tuesday’s Franklin Sectional.

The Republic file photo

Both Matt and Brianna have been state qualifiers in the 1,600 meters and 4×800 relay in track, and both have qualified to regional in three events this season. Brianna won the 1,600 and was part of the winning 4×800 relay and third-place 4×400 relay teams at the sectional.

Both are solid bets to make it back to state. The Bull Dogs have among the state’s top times in all three of Matt’s events going into Thursday’s Greenfield-Central Regional, and the girls 4×800 relay team also is one of the state’s best going into Tuesday’s Franklin Regional.

“I’m pretty sure I can make it to state, and I’m hoping when I get there, I can make All-State,” Brianna said. “That’s my goal.”

Matt won the 800 and was part of the winning 4×800 relay and second-place 4×400 relay teams at Thursday’s North Sectional. His goal is to win state in the 800 and in the 4×800 relay.

“(The 800 is) a little different (than the 1,600), but the concept is the same — work hard in training, and it will pay off in competition,” Matt said.

Sierra also runs cross-country, but was on the junior varsity team last fall. She is hoping her success in track this spring carries over into her sophomore cross-country season.

“She’s one of our more explosive kids, so she’s always liked the shorter stuff,” Dan said. “She does OK in cross, but she can also long jump and pole vault and run the 400. She long jumped well as an eighth-grader, but for her to jump almost 16-4 at sectional was exciting.”

“When I did youth track, I would long jump for fun,” Sierra added. “I just liked doing it, and I happened to be good at it. Then, I pole vaulted when I was old enough to in sixth grade.”

Sierra doesn’t mind being coached by her father in the pole vault and having her grandfather and older siblings around, as well.

“There’s definitely some pros and cons, but I like having them around because they’re really supportive and everything and you can always go to them for tips and stuff like that,” Sierra said. “That’s also really nice because not a lot of people have older siblings to look up to. So watching them be so successful helps me look into the future.”

Brianna is happy to carry on the family track tradition.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Brianna said. “It’s always nice to see a familiar face, and it’s just cool to keep on that legacy. It’s kind of a sense of pride because we’re just continuing that.”