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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Newton retires; spot in record book remains

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Forty-six years is a long time to spend in the field of public education.

Fifty years is an even longer time to spend in the state record books.

However, Marvin Newton can lay claim to both feats of longevity.

Mention Newton's name to just about any school-aged kid in Viola and it's likely you'll hear, "great superintendent."

Mention Newton's name to any of the slightly-older residents of the Fulton County town and it's likely you'll hear, "great ball player and great superintendent."

Newton retired as superintendent of the Viola Public School system in June after 46 years as an educator, including the past 32 years as superintendent at Viola, his alma mater.

What many of Newton's former students at Viola might not know, however, is that during his time wearing the Longhorn orange as a student/athlete at the school, Newton had one of the most prolific scoring seasons in the history of high school basketball in the state of Arkansas, a season that ended with the Longhorns being crowned as state champions.

That magical season, Newton's senior year of 1956-57, Viola won the Class B (at that time, there were only two divisions, A and B) title in boys' basketball, fueled by Newton's 30.2 point-per-game scoring average.

Those 30.2 points Newton poured into the hoop on a nightly basis topped the previous state record for points-per-game by well over six points, earning Newton a spot in the state high school basketball record books as the most prolific scorer in Arkansas, a record he held for 13 years until Bennie Fuller from the Arkansas School for the Deaf broke it in 1969-70. Newton remained in second place behind Fuller for 17 years and currently clocks in at number five on the list. As a junior in the 1969-70 season, Fuller scorched the nets for an eye-popping 44.9 point-per-game average. Three of the four players above Newton on the list played with the 3-point line a part of the game, while Newton and Fuller played before the dawn of the 3-pointer, a shot that ushered in a whole different era of offense.

Not slowing down any after the 1957 regular season ended, Newton also broke the state record for most points scored in a state tournament by scoring 134 points, topping the previous record by better than 14 points. This record stood for three seasons and now also ranks fifth on the current list.

Newton's prowess on the court as well as in the classroom allowed the All-State and All-Star performer to earn a full scholarship to Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas).

After graduating from college in 1961, becoming the only member of his family to receive a college degree, Newton began his trek into what would become a 46-year journey in shaping the lives of others through his role in the public school system.

A journey according to Newton, that really had no master map to follow, one that started out as a basketball and baseball coach in Ozark, Mo.

"It just happened by accident. When I first got out of college, I went to Missouri and worked three years. Then I returned to Arkansas and worked at Norfork one year and was in coaching and teaching," Newton said. "The following year I moved to Mountain Home and spent one year there as a classroom teacher and counselor, and then got talked into going into administration there at Mountain Home."

After one year as principal at Mountain Home Junior High, followed by nine at the high school level, the chance opened up for Newton's return to his alma mater in 1975.

"The superintendent's job here (Viola) had opened up after I had already decided to leave Mountain Home. I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I left Mountain Home, but the superintendent here, Dean Hutson, left Viola about the same time I was leaving Mountain Home," said Newton. "They were having some problems at Viola, so I agreed to come over here. I had already turned down the job once, but the second time they asked me, I decided to come. I really had no intentions of staying this long, I wanted to stay a reasonable amount of time, but had no idea I would be here 32 years."

And during Newton's three decade-plus tenure at Viola, one of the state's smallest school districts numbers-wise, but one of the biggest geographically, Newton has seen his share of challenges pop up, one of the most recent, and probably biggest, being the issue of state-forced consolidation.

"Everybody kept thinking we were going to go under, but we were in real good shape financially and had the students, so we weren't going to go under," said Newton. "When they first started talking consolidation, they were saying you had to have 1,500 students in a school. Well, that would have wiped out just about every school around here, which was impossible to have happen. Some of the things they were putting out about consolidation were just not feasible. I'd seen schools go through consolidation where it really messed students up for years. But really, you don't have much control over that. If you just keep the number of students up, you'll be fine. Our numbers are starting back up. They dropped for awhile, but they're building back."

And these days, the finical health of a school district ranks second only to the test results a district produces, with Viola in good shape in both categories.

"We've been able to maintain our schools without a real high millage rate. We built a new elementary school, of course it's not new anymore, but we got that done while I was here," Newton said. "Some of the first things we did was air condition the buildings and we've had some good academic programs, some good test scores and a real good staff. We've accomplished a lot of things. It wasn't what I have done, but what the people working here have done. The proudest thing of my career is having good people here to work with. That means so much."

And according to Newton, things should go on running smoothly for Viola Public Schools, even without him around the campus on a daily basis.

"I think they hired an excellent replacement. He's a former student here and a math major who taught math and has been principal the last two years - John May," said Newton. "He was a Governor's Scholarship person right out of high school, so he's real sharp and will do a great job."

Somehow it seems fitting that Newton should ride off into the sunset in 2007, 50 years after helping his Longhorns overcome some long odds and tall competition to win the Class B state championship.

That team, led by a pair of All-Staters in the form of Newton and Jimmy Webb, certainly had its work cut out for it in the post-season.

First up, Viola knocked off defending state champion Valley View 70-63. Valley View had scored a then record 314 points en route to the 1956 Class B title. In the second round, the Horns topped a Prairie Grove team that had won 37 games that year, winning 59-45.

Then came the semi-finals and a meeting with Hampton, a tall team whose starters ranged from 6-1 to 6-5.

No problem. Although they had no players over 6-2, the Longhorns still managed to knock off Hampton 56-55 in overtime, in a game in which Newton tossed in 43 points, which would have been a record for most points in a single tourney game, had Lovelady not fired in 45 points during that same tournament. As it is, Newton's 43-point game in the state tournament is still ninth best all-time.

Still, 43 points or not, Newton is just happy his Longhorns posted a W against a talented Hampton squad.

"You have to have a lot of luck. I got a lot of publicity because I scored a lot of points, but I remember one shot that no one ever talks about," said Newton. "We were one point behind in overtime, and I had driven in trying to shoot a layup. I realized when I was up in the air that I was surrounded by three or four players, so I passed the ball to Kenny Richardson, who was standing on the free throw line. He shot the ball and it went in to put us one point ahead as the buzzer went off. So we came close to getting beat. But to me, that was the biggest shot made in the whole tournament."

After besting Marmaduke 53-52 in another overtime thriller in the state title game, the determined bunch from Viola had its first state title. And according to Newton, the regular-season schedule, which saw the Horns suffer just five setbacks, got the team ready for the gauntlet it would face come playoff time.

"We played some really good teams. We played West Plains and Thayer, and both of them either won state, or were state runner-ups that year," Newton said. "We beat Thayer but West Plains beat us at West Plains, but we did play some good teams. Even our conference was real strong that year, with teams like Calico Rock, Melbourne, Mammoth Spring, Salem, and then we played Oxford and Violet Hill, so we'd been through the battles even before we got to the state tournament. People hadn't heard of us at state, and that helped some."

But it didn't take those teams at the state tourney level long to find out that Viola was not going to roll over for anyone.

"I think we were a bunch of players that were not real good individually, but we were determined not to lose," Newton said. "We had an attitude that we didn't expect to lose. We didn't brag about it, but in our minds, we felt that we could beat about anybody. We had some tough teams to beat. Hampton for example, we could have played them several times and might not have beaten them. They had a team that was a lot bigger than we were but, I don't think they thought we could play with them. The night before we played Hampton, they played Dover, and of course Dover had J.P. Lovelady."

A legendary name in Arkansas high school basketball, Newton says every accolade afforded Lovelady is well deserved.

"Oh, he (Lovelady) was a pro. The (Atlanta) Hawks were going to sign him out of high school," said Newton. "But he had a car wreak and then died from complications related to that. I've seen a lot of high school players in my time, and he was one of the best I've ever seen. He was really good. He was 6-5 or 6-6, and most people that big back in those days couldn't move very well, but he could. He could play guard, or anywhere on the floor."

As much as the 1957 season means to Newton, he justifiably is just as proud of the state titles Viola has racked up during his run as superintendent, two in baseball and another one in boys' hoops, all in the past 10 years.

"I would give up my records anytime," he said. "The state championships mean so much more. And my son Lance played on the state champion baseball team (1998), so that makes it even more special."

Other than St. Joe's Morris Dale Mathis, who scored a record 108 points in a game in 1955, Newton's accomplishments rank as the oldest marks still standing today. Most of those ranked ahead of him played in the 70s, 80s or even the 90s. As a matter of fact, in the three categories Newton is ranked, he is by far the oldest on the list, topping such legends as Ricky Norton, Fred Allen and Donnie Kessinger, not to mention those not even on the list, such as NBA All-Stars Derek Fisher, Corlis Williamson and Joe Johnson.

So although he will no longer be an official part of the Viola School District, Newton will remain a Longhorn for life.

"The biggest thing I'm going to miss is the people I work with and the students in the school," he said. "I've really enjoyed the people I've been working with, the board and staff. I'm going to miss them. When you see them everyday, you get attached to them. I look back, and it was a good run. It was a bonus to finish where I started, at Viola. But now I'm going to rest. Or try to. I'm been after it for 46 years, so it's time to rest for awhile."

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