Posted by: Joe English | November 19, 2008

Movie Review: The Long Green Line (2008)

long-green-lineI have to admit that I didn’t run out to see the new documentary The Long Green Line. Direct Mathew Arnold sent me a copy to review right in the midst of the peak of marathon season, so the film sat on my desk for a few weeks. Now I wish I had seen it sooner.

The Long Green Line presents a season with the cross country running team from York High School in Elmhurst, Illinois. The school, located outside of Chicago, is a typically suburban high school in most respects, but its cross country team is nothing short of extraordinary. The film chronicles a season with the boys team as they try for their 25th Illinois state title in 45 years. The team is the most winning sports team of any high school, in any sport, in the United States.

At the heart of the cross country program’s success is the coaching of Joe Newton and his assistants. The film, while following the team through the season, is more of a portrait of the coaching styles of Newton and his approach at reaching the boys in his program. He emphasizes discipline, character, and respect in his training. “It’s nice to be great, but far greater to be nice,” he says.

Perhaps what sets Newton apart from coaches of today’s age is that he seems to be able to not only instill a desire to win and excel on the field of sport, but he is able to get these kids to want to be good people at the same time. ‘We make them into good people first, then good runners,’ is an ideal that he espouses in the film.

To say that all running coaches should see this film is to sell the film short. Truly everyone that works with high-school aged boys should see this film. You can watch before your eyes how a true master gets his message through and makes a profound influence on the lives of these young men.

What film-director Arnold does so effectively is to capture Joe Newton connecting with these boys. Arnold is not afraid to let the camera linger on the faces of the boys as they listen to Newton speak. You can see on their faces that they are thinking, processing, absorbing the information — albeit slowly at times as is often the case with boys. Newton is able to combine just the right amount of love and compassion with discipline and incentive.

At separate points in the film, Newton tells us that he aims to give his students the love and care that they won’t find anywhere else in school and then later he tells us that he knows which boys that he can pick-on and joke with — and which ones need a more caring hand. These ideas show that Newton is careful and strategic in delivering his message and this is what makes it so effective with the wide range of boys with whom he works.

You can see that the Newton is constantly coaching. Constantly thinking about how to make an impression on each of the kids and constantly willing to make the investment in each of them. A great example is his tradition of shaking every boys hand at the end of practice, every day. With as many as 200 boys that takes time, but the investment of his time is paid back in the personal connections that he makes with these kids.

The Long Green Line is also a film that does a great job of following a season of cross-country running. This doesn’t get lost behind the backdrop of Newton’s incredible coaching. Arnold does a nice job using graphics that help us see how the team is organized and how scoring is calculated in the sport. There are also many great sequences of the runners themselves, training and racing in their practices and meets.

If you are a running coach, you may be struck by the fact that not much is said about training methods in the film. This is not a film that reveals Joe Newton’s training strategies. But that’s just fine. There are dozens of great books that teach how to train runners. What we get from the Long Green Line is something far much important: a portrait of how to connect with boys on a deeply personal level.

Director Mathew Arnold deserves our thanks for capturing Joe Newton on film so that we can learn from him and that a bit of his coaching is preserved for posterity.

The Long Green Line is available now on DVD. You can purchase it by clicking here.

To visit the official web-site of the film, click here.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor, Running Advice and News



  1. When I saw the phrase “Long Green Line” I knew it sounded familiar. I ran cross country as a freshman under Joe Newton. I have vivid memories of signing up to run with 100+ other kids, having to wear a tie to school whenever we had a meet, our green sweatsuits, the varsity team wearing tuxedos and medals after winning the state championship, and of course, shaking his hand after every practice. Unfortunately, I only ran one year of cross country. Looking back, I wish I would stuck with it. Thanks for the post. Living in Oregon, I probably never would have heard about the movie.

  2. Thanks for posting this review. Looks like a great movie. Can’t wait to see it.

  3. This was a great film. Thank you!

  4. I went to York in the early 80’s and several of my best friends ran for Joe. I was lucky enough to receive a paper booklet that he handed out to his runners of “Newtonisms”, favorite quotes, poems and stories, which I have to this day. I am purchasing this DVD for my son who is 14 because I wish for him to grow up to be the type of man my friends have become. What I wouldn’t give for all of his coaches to live and teach their truths like Joe does.

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