Everybody who knows Beth Newton agrees on one thing: She hates to lose.
“It’s hard for me to play in recreational situations,” said Newton. “When I’m playing, I want to win.”
As she begins her first season as coach of the Rock Bridge volleyball team, Newton is passing on her desire to win to a young squad with only three returning seniors.
Newton said athletics have always been her passion. She played every sport she could as a kid and even from an early age, she wanted to coach.
“I can’t remember wanting to do anything else,” she said. “I was aggressive by nature. There were probably times I embarrassed my mother.”
When she attended Harrisonville High, Newton continued to participate and excel in athletics, especially volleyball. While volleyball was her favorite sport, Newton said Bruce Graber, her former track coach, became her mentor.
“He was always there for me,” Newton said. “I just wanted to be a coach like him that was always there to help players out and push them to do better. That was what he did for me.”
Graber said he could always count on Newton to do whatever she needed to do for the team, whether it was running the 800 meters or throwing the shot put. Graber also said he admires Newton’s ability to overcome obstacles, a quality he noticed when he coached her.
“As far as great physical tools and talent, the good Lord didn’t give her an abundance of that, but he did give her a great huge heart and will and ability to compete hard regardless of where she was,” Graber said.
Newton had a successful high school volleyball career. When she was accepted to MU, she hoped to play volleyball for the Tigers.
While playing basketball her senior year, Newton tore both ligaments and cartilage in her knee and broke her femur. She was forced to redshirt her first season in 1985.
Her competitive spirit wasn’t defeated, though. She recovered well enough to play for MU in 1986 and to letter in 1987.
“My playing time was very speckled,” Newton said. “Most of my time as a player was riddled with injuries.”
Despite these injuries, Newton’s love of volleyball and competition endured.
When Newton started teaching science at Oakland Junior High, she also began coaching the school’s volleyball team. While coaching the team, Newton noticed that the girls in Columbia were several years behind the girls in surrounding communities in terms of skills and experience.
“We used to get just walloped by everybody,” Newton said.
Losing this way was unacceptable to Newton. She was determined to level the playing field, so in 1999, she and her assistant coach, Lori Erickson, started a club volleyball team for Columbia girls, now called the Vipers.
The program includes 12 teams of girls, ages 10-18, and allows them to improve their skills and play in tournaments.
“We had to do something because we hated losing,” Newton said. “We started the club so our girls could get more experience and to make us more competitive with all the teams we played.”
Newton said the program has helped all the junior highs in Columbia to be more successful. In turn, Rock Bridge and Hickman have benefited, as their players arrive with more experience. It gave Newton more experience as well, helping her land a job as assistant coach at Hickman in 2002.
While working at Hickman, Newton coached the junior varsity squad, leading the team to a 24-8 record in 2003. Newton said she learned many valuable lessons as a coach during her tenure at Hickman, some as a result of the experience of coaching her stepdaughter, former Kewpie setter Danielle Newton.
“You can’t show favorites or give preferential treatment because the other girls pick up on that right way,” Beth Newton said.
“It’s hard to coach your daughter.”
After surviving that challenge, Newton’s competitive edge propelled her to take on something bigger. When Vicki Reimler, the current Rock Bridge athletic director, decided to step down after 22 years as volleyball coach, Newton was named her replacement.
“I’m obviously thankful she got this opportunity,” Graber said. “She’s been more than ready for it for a long time.”
Graber said he gave Newton the same advice he has always given her as she begins her new job.
“I told her you have to do what you believe in,” he said. “She’s going to do that within the framework of knowing what’s best for those kids. I know she’ll do a great job. They’re very fortunate to have that young lady as a head coach.”
Practice started on Aug. 9, and Newton is noticing the advantages of her new position.
“We have an air-conditioned gym, they don’t,” Newton said referring to the difference between Hickman and Rock Bridge. “The athletes are great at both places. I still get to deal with great kids. The big change is, I get to do my own thing.”
Newton started making her mark by creating a structured practice environment. She starts each practice with stretching, running and other conditioning exercises, and then moves to the fundamentals.
Newton’s experience and love for the game seem to be helping her players. Senior middle blocker Corey Dunne said the players appreciate Newton’s experience as a player as well as a coach.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s played forever and really knows what it’s like,” Dunne said.
Newton wants the players to improve individually and lists that as one of her priorities, but she also wants the athletes to put the goals of the team first. The team’s foremost goal is winning, and they believe Newton can help them achieve it.
“I think she’s very competitive,” said Marisa Jeffrey, a senior defense specialist. “The kind of competitive that will make us win matches.”
It takes more than a knee injury, a tough middle hitter on the other side of the net or a team full of more experienced girls to stop Newton. It won’t take long for her team to learn how much she hates to lose.