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Christian softball coach loses her battle with cancer

Editor’s note: This is the version of the story that appeared in the December print edition of The Christian Chronicle. Newberry lost her battle with cancer Nov. 10, 2010.

On the Tuesday last spring when Donna Newberry notched her 900th career win as a NCAA Division III softball coach, she was too weak to stand along the third-base line.
Instead, the coach of the Fighting Muskies of Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, sat in a chair next to the dugout and yelled orders to her team and assistant coach Kari Hoying.
“There is no greater competitor than Donna Newberry,” said Debbie Lazorik, retired head women’s basketball coach and athletic director for Marietta College, the Ohio Athletic Conference foe that Newberry’s Muskies defeated, 8-3, for the milestone win.
“She was every bit focused on that game, and she was still barking out commands and talking to the kids when they came off the field,” said Lazorik, who attended the game.
In a fight for her life, Newberry, 58, an active member of the New Concord Church of Christ, scheduled her chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer to allow her “best days” on game days.
“I was willing to suffer a little pain on this end, but I felt like was worth the investment,” Newberry said of maintaining her commitment to the team that she led to 18 conference championships and a 2001 national title.
For the last 36 years, Newberry has been a living testimony of faith and determination in women’s athletics, say those who know her.
Her achievements include posting a 906-410-1 overall record and a 415-102-1 conference record. She also won more than 400 games as Muskingum’s women’s basketball coach.
But despite her athletic success, Newberry has endured so much personal pain.
Fifteen years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It went into remission and then came back 12 years ago, three years ago and now, she said.
“This time it is the battle of battles,” said Newberry, who was under hospice care at press time.
But despite her pain, Newberry still sees a steady stream of visitors and takes part in bedside prayer and Bible studies.
She also has a lot to say about coaching and the values that she has tried to instill in hundreds of young people. Those values are a big part of her recently completed autobiography, “From the Pit to the Pinnacle.”
When Newberry began her career at Muskingum, she coached softball and basketball.
While the college eventually built better basketball facilities for the men’s teams, the women played for many years in the oldest of three gyms. That gym was nicknamed “The Pit.”
Both of Newberry’s grandfathers served as ministers, as does her brother David Newberry, who preaches for the Little Hocking Church of Christ in Ohio.
The coach said she learned to push and set high standards from her mother, Juanita Newberry. Her father, Earl Newberry, taught her patience.
“She has always been a person who, when she has done something, did it to the very best of her ability,” said Juanita Newberry, a member of the Lubeck Church of Christ in West Virginia.
As a young girl, Donna Newberry served as a flower girl in her aunt Betty Pfalzgraf’s wedding.
Pfalzgraf said she always knew that her niece was special.
“She never compromised her values,” said Pfalzgraf, a  member of the Belpre Church of Christ in Ohio.
As a Christian, Newberry has let her light shine through her actions, said Dick Harris, minister of the New Concord Church of Christ.
“I have known her for 27 years, and she has been a tremendous asset to the church,” Harris said. “She has taught Bible class for most of those years, and she really knows how to relate to the children. She has brought her players to church many times, and once a year, she has brought the whole team.”
The coach has made regular mission trips to places such as Guyana, which she said has given her a chance to serve and learn from other cultures.
Despite her illness, Newberry’s mind remains sharp. When a reporter suggested that her life might be “in the bottom of the ninth inning,” she quickly corrected him.
“It is the seventh inning,” she said. “There are only seven innings in women’s softball.”

Newberry has handpicked her assistant Hoying, a former Muskingum player, to succeed her as coach.
Hoying said Newberry has prepared her well.
As a player, Hoying said, “I got the brunt of everything. It was very difficult because she knows how to push your buttons. But today I thank her for it because it made me a better person.
“She also taught me to lead with morals and to lead with character,” the assistant coach added. “There is not a time that goes by that I am not thinking about what I am going to say because it is a pure reflection on her as a coach.”
In October, Muskingum dedicated its softball field in the coach’s honor and renamed it the Donna J. Newberry Softball Field.
“You create champions in every sense of the word,” Muskingum President Anne C. Steele told Newberry.
“You lead by example, and you teach our students to hone the personal attributes needed for success in any endeavor ­— drive, perseverance, mental toughness, a keen intellect and the desire to learn and grow, to improve their skills and to expand their abilities.
“You inspire us all to reach for new levels of excellence.”

  • Feedback
    For Donna’s family, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude and thanks to Bobby Ross and Hamil Harris for this wonderful article heralding Donna’s career and faith. Her book “You Must Play to Win!”- A Coach’s Journey from the Pit to the Pinnacle is available from Publisher McDonald & Woodward’s website – www.mwpubcom/titles/donnanewberry.htm -.
    Betty Pfalzgraf
    Belpre, Ohio Church of Christ
    Parkersburg, West Virginia
    December, 9 2010

    Thank you so much for the great tribute to Donna Newberry in your December, 2010 issue. Donna was my second cousin and I visited with her in September while preaching in a meeting at her home church (New Concord, Ohio) It was the first time I had seen her in many years and I am saddened that our paths had not crossed earlier. She was awaiting her final victory, but this time it was not in a softball game. The world and church are better places because of Donna. Thanks again.
    Bill Butterfield
    Williamsburg Church of Christ
    Williamsburg, Virginia
    James City County
    November, 24 2010

    I graduated in 2005 and I would never have played college softball for anyone else but her. Her life is an example of what it means to be a Christian and make Christ her #1 priority. She is a role model and a very intelligent and hard-working woman. I will never forget her drive and her strength and courage to face such a horrible disease. What a pioneer for women in sport!
    Nicole Moran
    Edward Avenue Baptist Church
    Weyers Cave , Virginia
    November, 11 2010

    I played for Coach Newberry and graduated just this past May. I would do so much to be back there right now to be with my old teammates and friends. The story about her was great and it made a difficult time a little easier.
    Savannah Westenbarger
    Bethel, Alaska
    November, 10 2010

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