Bill Koehn played baseball under Jim Newbill at Geneva High School, and later became an assistant baseball coach and assistant athletic director under Newbill’s leadership at Geneva.
Koehn never stopped looking up to his mentor.
He had plenty of company. Word of Newbill’s death Friday on his 72nd birthday has reverberated throughout the area.
“He really embodied what we’ve tried to go do at Geneva High School with student-athletes,” said Koehn, who recently retired as Geneva’s boys golf coach. “He was a hell of a teacher and I think he exemplified the tradition of excellence we tried to create at Geneva High School.”
The former social studies teacher logged most of his 35 years coaching baseball and wrestling at Geneva and also spent 10 years as Geneva’s athletic director before stepping down in 1996.
“When he took over Geneva was starting to grow, and he grew the athletic department as enrollment improved, and worked on the girls side of the sports and made them equal to the men,” said Wayne DeMaar, former AD at St. Charles High School. “And I think he’s one of the reasons why Geneva athletics has really, really been very strong in the area, in the conference and in the state.”
Newbill’s legacy is partially tied to his leading role in landing the IHSA Class AA state baseball tournament at the former Elfstrom Stadium (now Fifth Third Bank Ballpark), a 13-year run that ended when the tournament shifted to Joliet in 2006.
“He worked extremely hard on that,” DeMaar said. “He was very proud of [bringing it to Geneva] and he even ran it after he retired. I can guarantee you if you talked to any baseball coach while Jim was running that tournament, they wish it was back in Geneva permanently. He really did an outstanding job, having the [opening banquet] on Thursday and really ran a first-class tournament.”
One of the people Newbill recruited to assist with the state tournament weekend was former Oswego baseball coach Dave Elko, an official scorekeeper for the event. Elko and Newbill squared off as coaching foes during many a Little Seven Conference series.
Elko said Newbill was a rival who commanded his utmost respect, and the two remained in contact after Newbill became AD. In a 2009 interview with the Chronicle, Newbill spoke glowingly about the rapport he enjoyed among the old coaching “fraternity.”
“We were very competitive against each other and we had a lot of respect for each other,” Elko said. “We always were able to [get together] after games, talk about the game, who got the breaks and who didn’t. We always respected each other very much.”
Newbill’s transition from coach to administrator drew rave reviews. Current Geneva AD Jim Kafer said Newbill “has no equal as an event planner and manager.”
“He was extremely organized, knew what it took to put on a first-class event and then make sure that he had people in place to do that,” Kafer said. “In my time period here, I primarily knew his involvement with the state baseball tournament, and that was run just very meticulously and according to clockwork, but you could also see remnants of that in other tournaments that he had set up here at the high school.”
Koehn considered Geneva fortunate to benefit from Newbill’s stewardship during a boom era for the community.
“He was an AD for a long time and in a period when the school was growing,” Koehn said. “He was instrumental in the creation of the athletic facilities that we have today, the football field, the baseball facilities we have. [Heck], when I was in high school we used to play at the Government Center. We didn’t even have a baseball field at the high school back then.”
Beyond his contributions in athletics, Newbill was a wonderful friend and family man, said DeMaar, who, along with his wife, occasionally traveled with the Newbills. DeMaar and Newbill also were part of a large golfing circle consisting mainly of retired teachers and coaches who teed it up weekly to keep in touch.
“He had two elderly aunts down in Missouri and he would go down and visit them and stay, and one of the times that we stayed together in the Ozarks, he made sure that he visited those aunts and really took care of them,” DeMaar said.
“… Obviously I know Jim is going to be missed as a father and as a friend to many, many, many people. We talk about him being a great father; he was a great husband, too. An outstanding family man.”
Newbill is survived by his wife, Lynn, and their three children. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Jim Newbill Memorial Fund can be made to Geneva School District, 227 N. 4th St., Geneva, IL to “enhance the athletic facilities he so loved,” according to Newbill’s obituary.
Those who knew him well aren’t surprised that his contributions to Geneva will carry on.
“He loved athletics, he loved being part of it and involved with his players,” Elko said. “He loved Geneva and he was good for Geneva, all throughout his career.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.