Late Sunday night I received an email from Selma Athletic Hall of Fame member Will Goldbeck asking if I knew Darel Newman had recently died.
Uh, well, no. As a relative newcomer to these parts, I hadn’t even heard of him.
What I learned within 12 hours from speaking to an array of people close to Newman, is the 74-year-old was one impressive man, whether it be as a world-class runner, educator or family man.
At Selma High School in 1961 Newman ran a school-record 9.7 seconds in the 100-yard dash and 21.7 in the 200 – records that still stand.
“That’s very fast for a high school athlete,” said Selma High School graduate and track and field aficionado Pete Esraelian.
Prematurely balding at a young age, Newman was dubbed the “Bald Bullet.” From Selma he went on to star at California State University, Fresno where he equaled the hand-timed 100-yard world record of 9.2 seconds, among other numerous feats.
Former longtime Selma High teacher and coach Haskell Henson knew the bald one for more than 50 years. They were on the same 400-yard relay team at Selma High, which reminded Henson of a classic Newman tale.
“We were at the Dos Palos Relays and there were mosquitoes out there that were bigger than bees,” Henson said. “The meet went on past 11 p.m. and it was so cold we were still wearing our sweats as we waited for the baton.”
It was all good until Newman didn’t remove his sweats before running the anchor leg and then tripped while struggling with his togs.
“He was talking to a girl over there and didn’t anticipate how fast we were running,” Henson said with a chuckle. “He finally got that baton and got up and won the race. He was flying. There’s no telling how fast he ran that last 100.”
A small-town celebrity by his college days, Newman was named Selma’s Citizen of the Year in 1965. The Chamber of Commerce hosted a banquet in his honor at the Selma High cafeteria and former actor Ronald Reagan (yes, that Ronald Reagan) was the keynote speaker. Reagan was soon to become the governor of California and then later the president of the United States.
Normally a quick study, Reagan was taken aback by the Bullet.
“He was expecting to meet some lanky young athlete and instead sees a 5-8 guy with no hair,” Esraelian mused. “He turned to me and my wife and said, “I believe he’s fast. He’s run so fast he’s blown his hair off.'"
Ah, that Irish wit.
When Newman’s running days were over, he migrated to Orange County where he taught at Santa Ana High School in a part of town better known for graffiti than orange trees.
Current Santa Ana principal Jeff Bishop recalled Newman fondly.
“He was an amazing human being and a great role model,” Bishop said. “He’d take kids who were struggling in the classroom and he just had a way of talking to them and motivating them. He even got some of them to go out for track.”
Newman’s passing has been a blow to the family, including his wife of 51 years, Linda; daughter, Shelly Repp, and her husband, Steve; son Ryan, and his wife, Tammy; and grandchildren Steffani, Shaun and Summer; and great-granddaughter, Beratta.
Ryan Newman has taken his father’s passing hard.
“He’d take students who had never seen a squirrel up to Lake Gregory to go running,” Ryan recalled. “And it wasn’t just students he was nice to. He was in a wheelchair in his later years and got around part of the time on a scooter. After he died, we found out he’d given some of his scooters to neighbors who needed them. He was a just a great man.”
And now I know.
John Murphy can be reached at 583-2413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.