Newt Engle Celebrating 50 Years with Akron Rifle
The year was 1974 and Newt Engle was carpooling to class at the University of Akron from his parent's home in Canton for the start of a day that forever changed the landscape of the Akron Rifle program.
On that day Engle began amazing run with the Zips, one that enters its 50th year with the program during the 2023-24 campaign.
During his decorated tenure, the two-time Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association National Coach of the Year, has seen his Akron teams ranked in the top-15 over the last 20 years, including a program-best No. 6 rating in 2020. Off the range, his squads have boasted a team grade point average of 3.2 or better in every semester since 2016. Additionally, he is a member of the Akron Athletics Hall of Fame.
"After I'd been here about a week, one of my close friends from high school Dave Claus got with me and said they were going to have rifle team tryouts next Wednesday and he said you want to go," said Engle. "I said what do you mean rifle team, he goes they have a rifle team here and they're going to have tryouts, maybe we can make the team. So we came down and met the coach, her name was Nancy Worsencroft, they suited us up gave us some rifles and the rest is history. We both tried out and made the team and we both shot on the team for four years."
Engle went on to shoot for the Zips for three years, including winning league titles in 1975 and 1976, before a turn of fate provided him an opportunity that forever changed his life. In 1977, Worsencroft suffered a serious injury that required her to move away from Ohio to recover and Engle was elevated to head coach for his senior year, a position he has held for 47 years.
"I actually shot for three years before I became coach, and the fourth year I was still a competitor, but I was a competitive coach," said Engle. "It has been quite the journey. I think back every year to when I joined and started the team and even when I started coaching what a challenge it was just to keep six to eight people shooting. In order to get six to eight people to come down and two or three people to tryout so we could keep the numbers on the team at a respectable level was a challenge."
Challenges are nothing new to Engle who has persevered to become the longest tenured coach at the University of Akron.
"The major challenge back then was getting people to know we're here and to tryout for the team," said Engle. "While they were doing that, we'd tried to find out if they had any experience and I can vividly remember when someone would come down and say they shot for a few years on a junior club and we'd go you don't need to tryout, you're on the team. You have experience, you've done this before, you're on the team."
From his modest start with the program and the incredible support from the University and athletics department, Engle was amazed at the first time he was able to offer a student-athlete scholarship money.
"I can remember the first time the University said we might be able to come up with some scholarship money for you and it was a small stipend I could offer to a female athlete, and I thought well how are we going to do that."
Engle vividly remembers the day he first met Cori Flask, a nationally ranked collegiate shooter, who was in the top-10 nationally, and lived in Twinsburg, Ohio, and who received that offer and forever changed the face of the program.
"I thought well I'm going to drive up there and see if I can meet with Cori and her dad (Bill)," said Engle. "I went to talk to her about the possibility of coming to Akron and shooting for the Zips for a small scholarship and in my mind I was prepared to hear that all these other schools want me too so why would I go to Akron? I was flabbergasted when her reply was, 'I was so hoping you were going to ask me because I don't want to go very far from home and I really want to shoot for Akron.' I remember sitting there a little bit dumbfounded for a moment when finally ground out – that's great."
As Engle put it that was the beginning of other nationally ranked shooters wanting to come to Akron and compete.
"Cori coming to Akron started the ball rolling where more and more people with experience, people that were nationally-ranked or even others on the national development team saying hey Akron is a place where I could go and do well," Engle explained.
The results have been evident ever since as Akron is now a destination for shooters looking to compete on the collegiate level under the tutelage of Engle and his staff.
"Right now, we're recruiting heavy for Fall of 2024, and we have many prospective student-athletes that have filled out questionnaires saying they want to come to Akron," said Engle. "We must review and decide how we're going to pick three and maybe four people out of this massive group and narrow it down to those we want to make offers to. It's been a blessing, but at the same time a bit of a curse because one of the things I hate to do is say no."
The elevation of the program has made these decisions even tougher every year for Engle as he looks to meld a core of returnees with a talented mix of newcomers.
"It is tough when you have people sitting in front of you and I can see the want in their eyes that they truly want to come to Akron," said Engle. "I'm getting better at saying up front we're going to have to explore some other opportunities because you're not at the point we can place you on the team. I hate that because I feel like I'm squashing them, and I don't want to do that, but at the same time I sit in the big chair and I'm going to have make these decisions. As hard as it is, it has put us in a place where we are nationally competitive now."
Engle went on to describe what he looks for in student-athletes.
"Initially we'll look at scores, but we've learned from experience that the scores are in actuality about No. 3 on the list of what we look for," said Engle. "I tell people it is initially going to start with scores, but after that we'll rearrange that and what has become most important is that we want a team maker and not a team breaker. Secondly, we ask what do you want to study, and if you say I want to be an engineer, or a nurse, or go into dance and theatre or any of our crown jewels at the University of Akron, then I'd say I know you have the scores because I'm looking at you, I know you're a team maker because everyone really likes you and now you're searching for a degree you want and now you've checked off my three boxes so let's talk."
Engle's greatest joy has been seeing the development of his student-athletes here at Akron, but more so in the people they have become after graduation.
"My time at Akron has put me in a position where I probably have one of the largest families of any man in the United States, just simply because I have done it for this long," said Engle.
A strong communicator, Engle has described his squad as more of a family that simply a team and both of his daughters, Angie and April, competed for Akron's rifle team as nationally ranked shooters.
He is proud of these relationships, and he shared a story of one of his former athletes, Julia Hatch, who shot for the Zips for four years and later worked another two seasons as a graduate assistant, and her upcoming wedding.
"I was sending a text to Julia, who's getting married in October, and she said I suspect you're not going to be able to go (to the wedding," said Engle. "I said well Julia you were here for six years so you know that is in the middle of our prime season so you're correct I'm not going to be able to go, but I know you know that I wish you nothing but the best and you also know you need to send me some pictures."
Always the innovator, fate shined on Engle when the Zips hosted the 2016 NCAA Rifle Championships at the Stile Athletics Field House, the first-ever NCAA Championship hosted by Akron.
A four-year process full of legal and logistical challenges, the Zips became the first school to host the championships on a fully portable range that would support both the air rifle and smallbore competitions.
"It is one of the proudest moments for me hosting the NCAA Championships in 2016 as that was a four-year process to get there and it started with getting over the legal and health and safety challenges to get our general counsel and health and occupational safety departments to approve it," said Engle. "I'm also very proud of the fact that the university when we hit a wall, a legal or safety wall, asked what do we need to do to make this happen. To quote our current Athletics Director Charles Guthrie, we'd find a way to make it happen and they it did, and it is one of the things I'm proudest of is it took the NCAA Rifle and like I've often said busted us out of the basement."
Prior to 2016, schools wanting to host an NCAA Championship had to have a 12-point range or larger to host, had to shoot on a smallbore range, many of which are down in the lowest levels buildings on campuses with no room for spectators.
"Before 2016 we found we could set up a portable air rifle range in a basketball arena or a field house and we could have our air rifle championships which had been getting bigger and bigger, but our smallbore championships was always stuck in a basement somewhere," said Engle. "When we did this in 2016, it began with my dad going to a championship asking why they aren't shooting smallbore here. I said they can't do that and that is when it started, and he looked at me and said why not and that is exactly how it started, and it just snowballed from there."
The amazement came in 2016 when over 8,000 people logged online to watch the championships with over 1,000 fans in the stands at the Stile Athletics Field House. The following year this model, the NCAA portable range, became the standard for all future NCAA Rifle Championships. The Zips again successfully hosted the 2023 NCAA Championships, the latest time at James A. Rhodes Arena.
"This is one of my proudest moments to be able to do that and have a lasting effect on the NCAA to where now any school with a rifle program can host," said Engle. "Not only that but spectators can not only watch air rifle, but they can watch smallbore as well, so it changed the face of the game nationwide and I'm pretty proud of it."
The Zips continued their elevation as a program when the squad earned its first-ever team berth into the NCAA Championships in 2020. The championship was unfortunately never contested, something that saddens Engle to this day for the opportunity lost for the members of that team.
"It (2020) is still hard for me to talk about but when that happened what really hurt me was for the team," said Engle. "Since then it has really increased my determination that we are going to do this again and we're going to qualify and we're going to go. Like I've been saying since 2020, we're not going to be satisfied just going, we want to place."
These are not just words for anyone that knows Engle these are the seeds that motivate him and the Zips to future greatness.
"In the team meetings we have held so far this season we've let them know we're not targeting to go as the No. 8 team, we want to go there with the other teams knowing that Akron is in it to win it. My thought process is I hope this is the year we start to go every year and make it routine for us to go. What happened in 2020 was probably the greatest joy followed by the greatest sadness of what could possibly happen. I want to erase that and get to the point where we're going to make it every year."
The drive, determination and focus of all the Zips over the years have made this a family that Engle is immensely proud of.
"I've heard over and over again that Akron is a really good team because they are like a family and I'm really proud of that, we work hard for that," said Engle.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT NEWT ENGLE
"I have known Newt for nearly 25 years, first as a junior athlete, then as a collegiate athlete, and now as a coach. I feel it's impossible to think about collegiate rifle and not think of Newt and his longevity and significant contributions that he has made to our sport over his career. He's also just an amazing person who has enormous passion for his athletes and incredible love for the University of Akron."
- Ryan Tanoue - Head Rifle Coach, The Ohio State University
"I don't know how you put into words what Newt has meant to me and my family. Newt started shooting at the University of Akron around a similar time my grandfather, Denny Stanec, shot at the university. As a result, these two were friends for a long time and it was Denny who got me started shooting when I was 10 years old. One of my first practice sessions I met Newt and we have been lifelong friends since that time. He was an integral part of who I am today and what shaped me to be the person with the work ethic that I am at the present."
"My short few years at the University of Akron were full of lots of hard work, long hours, lots of laughs, and some difficult times. Newt was there all in, every step of the way. The way he advocates for our sport, our athletes, and our jobs is unlike anyone I have ever seen."
- Dr. Abbey Stanec - Former Graduate Assistant under Engle, The University of Akron
Media Contact: Sean Palchick, email@example.com