Coach Joe Newton has used the sport of Cross Country Running to teach simple but important lessons to high school boys for the last 50 years. "Always do your best", "be on time" and "it's nice to be great but far greater to be nice" are mantras, which have turned the Boys Cross Country team at the public York High School in Elmhurst Illinois into the most winning high school team in any sport in America. Along with mastery of their sport, Newton turns boys into men, who carry his teaching and his love for each of them throughout their lives.
The Long Green Line documents the York Duke's 2005 Cross Country season as the runners seek their record 25th state title in 50 years. In the sport of Cross Country only the top 5 athletes per team score points and only seven are included in competition. The York team has 221 athletes participating under the tutelage of Coach Newton. Though 214 boys know they will have no influence on the season's scores, they are moved to participate just to be in the presence of Coach Newton.
Such a large team is a blessing and curse. Newton is able to spread his influence further but life lessons can go unheard when they have to trickle to so many ears. In the middle of the season, two of the star athletes are expelled from school after committing over $1 million in arson damage. The York team is forced to rebuild -- to face a true test of what they have learned both physically and mentally.
The team is colorfully decorated with characters like the All-American winners the Dettman Twins, Sophomore John Fisher, a high functioning autistic with a heart of gold, out of shape former football players who reside on the lowest rung of the team and Freshman Connor Chadwick who has cerebral palsy but is able to run without leg braces for the first time in his life.
The Long Green Line is not only a team but also, a rite of passage. It is a lifeline for these young runners as they move from adolescence to manhood.
THREE STARS Cross country isn't a glamor sport, but that doesn't mean you should run away from The Long Green Line. Cross country, which involves teams of runners traversing hill and dale for points, doesn't attract a lot of attention, but there are great stories to tell; this documentary is more about the people who run than about the sport in which they compete. Its focus is legendary coach Joe Newton and his York High School program, from neophyte freshmen recruited from the halls of the Elmhurst school to Newton, arguably the greatest high school coach in the country, regardless of sport. Former York students Matthew Arnold (producer/director) and Brady Hallongren (producer/director of photography) have captured the tumultuous 2005 season that led to (spoiler alert!) York's 25th state title. Along the way you watch Newton deal with the dismissal of two of his top runners for their involvement in an arson and see how the Dukes pull together to overcome adversity. Two of the show's biggest stars never scored a point for York High. Senior John Fisher, a high-functioning autistic teammate, and freshman Connor Chadwick, who has cerebral palsy, are inspirational. The road to another state championship is compelling, but more interesting is Newton's relationship with the team as a whole, whether they be top runners Matt and Eric Dettmen or Group Six runners the slowest of the slow. The Long Green Line& shows that cross country at York, which now has 26 state titles, is more than just championships. --Reid Hanley, Chicago Tribune
THREE STARS Running is hard. It takes a healthy body and disciplined mind to overcome the physical and mental obstacles to cross the finish line. The Long Green Line paints the picture of the 2005 York Dukes cross-country team combating myriad obstacles to add to its already-impressive resume. Along the way, it provides a wide array of compelling figures and story lines to get wrapped up in. The documentary, directed by Elmhurst native Matthew Arnold, follows the high-school squad from the beginning of the season to the capture of a remarkable 25th state title in Peoria. At times moving, at times jovial, it captures the drama and camaraderie born out of a local dynasty striving to add yet another piece of hardware to its trophy case. But the real story -- the film's unequivocal star -- is the Dukes' incomparable coach Joe Newton. The master motivator is a spry, cunning 76-year-old savant who comes off nothing short of larger than life. It's captivating to watch him coddle those who need to be coddled and deliver tough love to the ones who better respond to harsher criticism. He brings a tried and true set of values that help mold the team into better citizens and tougher competitors. As directed by Arnold, a former member of the York Dukes, the film is a healthy reminder of how sports can mold young men and women into better people. Arnold and his team succeed in presenting several examples of runners reaching individual goals. From the Dettman twins, senior co-captains overcoming health issues for their fourth straight state title to the wide-eyed and raw freshman Joe Kiolbasa, we're reminded that hard work pays off. The Long Green Line serves as a refresher course in how team sports can provide priceless life lessons and tug at the heartstrings when done right. --Kyle Koster, Chicago Sun-Times
THREE STARS Inspirational sports documentaries are a dime a dozen. Matthew Arnold's doc is pure gold from its handsome production values to its dramatically engrossing look at legendary cross country coach Joe Newton in his 50th year at York High School in Elmhurst. Equal parts Mr. Miyagi, Dr. Phil and General George Patton, Newton pumps and primes his athletes for their 25th state title, only to be hit by virus attacks and frequent bouts of youthful stupidity. --Daily Herald