When Varsity Softball Head Coach Kathy Newell stepped down last spring after a 33-year run of guiding the school’s program, the coaches of the Independent School League (ISL) made sure she was recognized. At their first meeting this spring, the ISL athletic directors unanimously decided to name the league’s previously unnamed softball sportsmanship award in honor of Coach Newell.
The award itself is given annually to an ISL softball player who demonstrates exceptional sportsmanship.
Athletic Director Chuck Richard said he is proud that such a well-loved and respected BB&N coach received such an important honor. He emphasized that the award is very fitting for Coach Newell.
“She cares so much about our students and their experience as athletes, especially our girls,” he said. “She is a pioneer in women’s sports.”
In 1983, Coach Newell had graduated from college and came to the school to meet with then-Athletic Director Jack Etter, telling him she wanted to coach. That year, Coach Newell began coaching girls’ field hockey and started the ice hockey program from scratch. She served as the team’s head coach for the next 20 years and continues her involvement today. From 1985 until last year, she was head coach for the softball team, garnering a winning record in 27 of 33 seasons and racking up a total of 333 wins.
Mr. Richard praised Coach Newell, who has spent the entirety of her professional career at the school, for her commitment and dedication to the school’s athletic program.
“She coaches everything here,” he said. “She steps in wherever we need her, so she is invaluable as a coach and a lifelong member of our staff.”
“Ms. Newell may be a Nobles grad,” he added, “but she definitely bleeds blue and gold.”
Coach Newell said that upon receiving the news of the honor, she was caught completely off guard.
“It’s very humbling. I never expected it, nor would I ever expect it,” she said.
“In a lot of ways, it validates my career, my standing in the ISL, and it gives me recognition,” she added. “It’s an honor, a real honor.”
Coach Newell’s description of her approach to situations where BB&N was clearly a game’s dominant team spoke to the award’s message of sportsmanship.
“There are often times when we could make the score ridiculously out of proportion, but we didn’t,” Coach Newell said. “I’d say to the kids that we’ve been on the other side of that, and it feels like crap, so we’re not going to do that.”
She would then tell the team to run one base at a time even when the ball they’d just hit could easily produce a gram slam. This is how she instilled the importance of sportsmanship in her players, she said, citing the Golden Rule.
“You could be the other guy, so treat them as you want to be treated.”
Coach Newell said she didn’t always follow this philosophy, however.
“In my younger career, I used to have a ball up there from when we beat Nobles 26–0,” she said, pointing to a shelf above her desk. “Oh God, I feel bad that I did that. I was happy for my team, but it got out of control and was just wrong. I’ve learned a lot since then.”
Assistant Softball Coach Beth McNamara, having coached alongside Coach Newell since 2002, attributed Coach Newell’s success to her ability to form relationships with the team and make the season fun.
“Coach Newell’s connection to her players as individuals as well as to the team as a group is remarkable,” Coach Mac said. “She can be competitive—we always know when we have big games coming up against Nobles or Govs—yet she can also have fun.”
Coach Mac also described some of the little things that Coach Newell did to recognize individual players and build a positive team dynamic. For example, Coach Newell began the tradition of “candy innings” to motivate the team to score during particular parts of the game. She also made sure that when a player hit her first home run, the ball was later retrieved from the outfield so it could be inscribed as a keepsake for the player.
“She just cares about the kids enormously,” Coach Mac said. “We were a competitive program, but also there were lifelong friendships being started on that team.”
Coaches from other ISL schools also expressed their admiration and gratitude for Coach Newell and mentioned her unwavering respect for the game, her players, and even the opposing team.
Softball Coach Amy Hickey of Milton Academy remembered her first coaches’ meeting 18 years ago when, as a new and inexperienced coach, she met Coach Newell.
“I had a lot of questions, and Kathy was one of the coaches I consulted for guidance on how to build a successful program,” Coach Hickey said.
She added that she admired Coach Newell for her kindness and humanity.
“Kathy was always professional, with the utmost respect for the game, and always put the kids first,” she said.
Softball Coach Douglas Lewis of St. George’s School said that in his 20 years of coaching against her, Coach Newell and her team always exhibited the highest level of sportsmanship.
“She never had her teams run up the score in any game and was always quick to praise players on my team when they made a good play,” Coach Lewis said. “Kathy was always humble in victory—which was most of the time—and gracious in defeat. She set a great example for all of the players and coaches in the league.”
Current BB&N Varsity Softball Head Coach Paige Kemezis said she remembered instances of Coach Newell’s sportsmanship when she played against the BB&N team as a softball coach for Tabor. Once, Coach Kemezis said, a BB&N batter hit a Tabor pitcher with a line drive straight in the stomach. Rather than taking advantage of the situation by going for extra bases as many other coaches would have, Coach Newell showed compassion for the Tabor player, having her team carry out the play normally before checking to make sure the pitcher was alright, Coach Kemezis recounted.“You know that Kathy cares more about the kids than the win in her record,” Coach Kemezis said. “To me, she is the kind of coach that exemplifies everything good about our sport.”