When Kody Newman first stepped on the South Whidbey High School campus, expectations already were high.
The youngest of seven siblings in a family with a rich history of athletic success at South Whidbey, there wasn’t much Newman could accomplish that his older kin hadn’t already achieved. But rather than follow in their footsteps, the youngest Newman blazed his own path and left a unique mark on Falcon athletics.
A five-sport athlete in his four years at the school, Newman was a jack of all trades in an era where single-sport specialization is becoming more prevalent.
It culminated with a stellar senior year.
Newman helped lead the South Whidbey football team to a six-win season and a Week 10 playoff game a year after low participation numbers forced the Falcons to play an independent schedule, earned Class 1A all-state honors from the Associated Press in basketball, and was a first-team All-North Sound Conference selection on a South Whidbey baseball team that fell one win shy of a state-playoff berth.
For those accomplishments, Newman is The Herald’s 2019 Boys Athlete of the Year.
“It’s pretty good to realize that my talent is getting recognized by so many people throughout the district,” Newman said. “South Whidbey doesn’t get a lot of press because we’re kind of isolated away from everyone else, but it’s good to realize that people know that you’re working hard.”
Newman’s family has shined athletically at South Whidbey. His older siblings found success on the tennis and basketball courts. Kody’s older sister Lindsey won three straight Class 2A singles state titles from 2007-09, and his brother Riley won a state singles title in 2009 and was the state runner-up in 2010.
Kody proved early on he had the ability to rival those accomplishments. He finished fourth at the 1A/2B/1B state tennis tournament as a sophomore, but decided it was time to do his own thing the following fall.
Kody joined the football team. Naturally, he took over as the team’s quarterback.
“I kind of thought it was time to start my own path in football. I was really the only one to do it (in his family),” Newman said. “When I was playing football, I was setting my own records that no one else in my family really has and no one really knew what to expect, so I got to really, really aim for the top and I really think I did a good job doing that. It was really good to not have to live up to Riley’s expectations and kind of starting my own path and setting my own road with football.”
At most high schools, leaving tennis for the football team means stepping into a bigger spotlight, but Kody wasn’t joining a squad that was ripe with recent success. In fact, he was joining a squad that had just announced it would forgo its conference schedule to play an independent slate in an effort to rebuild a program plagued by dwindling numbers.
“It wasn’t like he joined the football team because the football team was dominating and it was going to be a high-profile team,” Falcons athletics director Paul Lagerstedt said. “He came on to a team, and really I give a lot of credit to Coach (Mark) Hodson, but he came on to a team that was just getting their feet under them. … I think that since he came to football, it probably made it a little more viable, a little bit more attractive and it gave the team a little more credibility on campus.
“He didn’t go the easy way and didn’t go the, you know, that’s-what-my-family-does (route). He kind of blazed his own trail with that. I really like that. I really respect that.”
Kody earned first-team all-league honors as a defensive back and second-team honors at quarterback his senior season.
His true passion, though, lies on the basketball court.
“Basketball is definitely my ride or die,” he said. “It’s the only one I didn’t switch when I was going through different sports. It’s the one I felt most comfortable at. I don’t know how to phrase it. It’s like a second nature to me. It just comes naturally.”
The 6-foot-1 senior was named North Sound Conference MVP. He averaged 23 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals per game on a 14-8 South Whidbey squad.
“He handled the ball, he played defense, he scored. He’s just an all-around player,” said Mike Washington, Kody’s basketball coach at South Whidbey. “He leaves every single thing he has on the basketball court. … There was nothing he wouldn’t do that I asked him to do. He was all in and gave everything he had all the time.”
Kody had records his siblings set to chase on the hardwood. Riley holds the school’s single-game scoring record with 46 points, and Lindsey also dropped 40 in a game. Kody put up numerous 30-point efforts his senior year but couldn’t quite break the 40-point barrier.
“I wanted to get up in that 40-club with my siblings, but sometimes you gotta make that extra pass or sometimes you’re not there to make that game-winning shot and somebody else is,” Kody said. “But as long as we got the win, I was OK with not setting any records.”
While Kody didn’t reach the individual point totals his older siblings did, he still ended up with more than 1,000 career varsity points. And he did one thing neither Lindsey nor Riley ever did — win a conference title. The Falcons claimed their first league title in boys basketball in 29 years in Kody’s junior season.
Kody played soccer for two years before joining the baseball team for his junior and senior seasons.
When Kody wasn’t playing for the Falcons, he could be found refereeing youth basketball on the island and helping with camps put on by Washington and the boys basketball program.
“The kids loved him,” Washington said. “He taught them well, he played, he kept them engaged, he was energetic. He fit in really well doing that.”
He also helped with a physical education class for students with special needs at the high school.
Kody plans to play junior-college basketball and pursue a career in firefighting. He hasn’t chosen a school yet.
Regardless of where he decides to go, he certainly left his mark on a community where he’s spent the entirety of his 18 years.
“I just think that from an AD’s standpoint, he’s just really upped our whole athletic program here with his participation,” Lagerstedt said. “Like I said, what really pops to me is how competitive he is and the motor he has. He’s never afraid of the moment, he relishes it, he embraces it and he excels in it.”