By Kelly Parsons
The Clemmons Courier
For many people, West Forsyth High School is merely a brief stop in their life’s journey.
But for 40 years, one man has found a constant in the ever-changing home of the Titans.
When the first West Forsyth Principal Harold Simpson hired Louis Newton upon his graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1969, he never planned to stay so long. In hindsight, he never really thought twice about it.
“After you’d been there for a while, you kind of carve out your little niche,” Newton said. “There was really no reason to leave. As long as they wanted to keep me there I was happy to be there.”
The school opened in 1964, when the merging of the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County school systems allowed Southwest High School to move down the street and transition into what is the current West Forsyth.
And It didn’t take the science teacher long to become totally immersed in Titan athletics. During the summer before his arrival, the former athletic director at West Forsyth retired. The young Newton took his place.
“Here I am 24 years old and athletic director at a 4A school,” Newton said. “I go to the meetings and these people had been coaches and athletic directors for 25 or 30 years. It was a little bit intimidating.”
And little did he know, he was about to add a lot more to his plate.
Already head coach of the wrestling team and assistant coach of the track team on top of his athletic director position, Newton had his hands full. But when the head football coach position opened up, the former UNC football player and three-time North Carolina high school state champion in the sport decided to apply anyway.
Originally, he wasn’t selected. But on the first day of practice the brand new coach resigned, taking a job at another school. West was in a bind, and Newton was their go-to guy. Soon the Renaissance man of high school sports added yet another position to his repertoire.
The first year, his team won only a single game.
“I was a terrible coach when I started,” Newton said. “That year, I didn’t do any of (my jobs) very well. I was overwhelmed.”
At that time West Forsyth was the smallest 4A school in the state. With a current student body of nearly 2,000 and ten buildings scattered across the large campus, that can be hard to imagine.
“When I came there, there were the original six buildings, and that was it,” Newton said. “We didn’t have a stadium there, we didn’t have a track. The baseball field was just like a big pasture.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that school would be this big.”
The small size and lack of facilities made athletics difficult in the early years, and wins for the football team were often few and far between. But the memory of one particular victory under Coach Newton in 1976 has remained with former Titan player Ric Ebert.
“We won our very first game that season against RJ Reynolds,” Ebert said. “(Newton) was the first football coach at West Forsyth to ever beat Reynolds.”
The 7-6 win in Bowman Gray Stadium that season would go down in the books. But Ebert, who was taught by Newton both on and off the field, remembered much more about his beloved mentor.
“(Coach Newton) was very driven, and he expected that out of everyone that he worked with,” Ebert said. “He was dedicated to making his students and his athletes be the best they could be.”
Newton coached at least one sport every year he worked full time at West Forsyth. But of them all, cross country was his passion. In 1990, 23-year-old Jeff Thompson joined the coaching staff.
“He had an aura of knowledge, but it was not condescending,” Thompson said. “I was really lucky to get a chance to work with him. He was a model for me as a young coach.”
In his last year of coaching, Newton went out with a bang.
The 20-year veteran in the sport helped Thompson lead the 1994-1995 Lady Titans cross country team to a 4A state championship, the first (and currently one of only two) team championship in the history for West Forsyth.
“Any high school coaches that are willing to put that amount of time into coaching, particularly running which requires day to day commitment, makes such a huge impact on so many kids,” former Titan cross country runner Julie Cox said. “I know (coach Newton) was really influential in a lot of people’s lives.”
Cox, who is now an assistant cross country coach at High Point University, was the number one runner on the 1994-1995 state championship team.
In 2004, after being retired from the school system for two years, current West Forsyth Principal Kurt Telford called Newton. The school was beginning a new computer system, and he requested Newton’s help for one year.
Six years later, he’s still there, working part-time helping with on-campus technology.
“I knew that I was performing a valuable service,” Newton said. “If I had been going in and sitting around, I wouldn’t have stayed. But they needed me.”
In a few weeks Newton will retire from his extended tenure at West Forsyth. Though the man who has witnessed West Forsyth grow during six different decades will no longer be a day-to-day presence, his legacy will no doubt live on; both in the halls of West Forsyth, and the hearts of the students he’s touched along the way.
“I know that he is always fondly remembered and always will be,” Thompson said. “He’s been very giving of his time. We’ll definitely miss him, there’s no question about that.”