Leading by example

Juneau boys co-captain puts team above individual glory

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

You can tell a lot about Alex Newton by what's missing.

Namely, an armband - a badge of honor few soccer team captains would ever forget to wear in a game, let alone choose to forego.

But Newton, a senior co-captain on the Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer squad, has done just that this season. Earlier this week in Ketchikan, he grudgingly donned an armband only after puzzled referees required it.

"I didn't want to wear an armband out there," said Newton, a midfielder. "I don't see myself as a captain ... above everybody on this team. I just want to work with everybody, and bond with everybody, and keep (the team) together.

"My leadership style is to not rule from afar (but) to become good friends with all the people out there - connect on a personal level - and lead from that."

And he's done just that this season, joining co-captain Kiel Urata to help mold a group of players with limited varsity experience into a cohesive Crimson Bear team. Juneau is undefeated entering this weekend's key home series against the Service Cougars. The two games - rematches of last year's state title game, which Juneau won 1-0 - will be held at 8 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.

A large part of Newton's of-the-people leadership style stems from the fact that he has paid his dues with the program. He started out on junior varsity - he was a JV captain his sophomore year - and had finally lined up a starting spot on varsity last season.

"He wasn't blessed with the greatest physical tools, but he hasn't let that affect his development," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said. "He's almost used it as a challenge. He's gotten more out of his ability than just about anyone I've coached."

"He leads by example," said senior Ephraim Froehlich, who has played soccer with Newton since sixth grade. "And anyone who has seen Alex play knows that he puts it all out on the line."

But four minutes into the first game of the 2003 season, at Ketchikan, he injured his left knee. He was sidelined for weeks after having arthroscopic surgery.

Alex's father, Dave, said he sensed that being sidelined was as tough on Alex as the physical pain.

"He felt he was forced away (from the team), and that bothered him," Dave Newton said.

But Alex devoted himself to recovering and made it back on the field in time to win a state title with the Crimson Bears in a reserve role.

"It was a huge test," Alex Newton said. "Without the help of my father and my teammates, I couldn't have made it back. ...

"I lost my starting spot, but that wasn't a problem. The payoff, being a part of that state championship - it was incredible."

His long road to varsity makes him a better team leader.

"I can relate with anyone out there - with guys not traveling and staying home, with guys who are working hard but not seeing varsity minutes," he said.

And that background fuels his armband avoidance.

"That's the way he is - he doesn't expect to be singled out," Lehnhart said. "He doesn't need to wear the band."

Newton - who also coaches two Juneau Parks and Recreation youth soccer teams - fulfills his captain's duties by demonstrating a strong work ethic.

"He does all the little things, and doesn't expect rewards for it," Lehnhart said. "When it snows, he goes out hours before practice and starts shoveling. When we have to raise money ... he does more than just about anybody."

And he is one of the biggest supporters of his teammates. On Tuesday, with a win over Ketchikan well in hand, most of Juneau's starting lineup came out of the game.

"A lot of the starters sat down," Froehlich recalled. "(But) Alex stood there the whole time, on the half line, cheering everyone on."

"It's a classic example of why he is a special player," Lehnhart said.

Soccer has also impacted Newton's life at home. His mom, Pat, died when he was 8 after a battle with cancer. Soccer helped strengthen an already-solid bond with his father, who is principal of Auke Bay Elementary School.

"We can talk about the game, and about what Alex did or didn't do," Dave Newton said. "Alex has always been one of those unique kids who can not only hear what people say about his game, (but) really reflect on it and try to do it."

"My dad and I have become a crew. He's always there," Alex said. "(Soccer) has brought my father and I so close."

Alex said he wants to follow in his father's footsteps and become a teacher. He plans to attend Montana State University-Billings and signed a letter of intent to play soccer there.

While he is not getting an athletic scholarship - yet - Newton said he's thrilled to get an opportunity to keep playing the game at the next level.

"Soccer is a huge part of my life," he said.

"I've made so many bonds with this game. It's just something you can't get anywhere else. I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't played soccer."

• Andrew Krueger can be reached at andrew.krueger@juneauempire.com.

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