Wilmette, Sports

A leg up on the competition? Something like that for state-bound Regina and coach Bob Newton

When Regina Dominican girls basketball is on hand at the IHSA Class 2A state finals this weekend, they won’t be hard to find.

They never are thanks to head coach Bob Newton’s game-day legwear.

Vibrant, patterned trousers have become Newton’s calling card, and along with the team’s pesky defense, they are a way Regina Dominican stands out on the court.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Panthers senior Payton Olszewski, who enjoys the yin-yang vibe between Newton’s no-nonsense coaching style and his all-nonsense pants choice. “It adds a uniqueness to our games to see this really strict coach and see him in really fun pants.”

Newton, who originally coached the Panthers from 1994-1998, returned to Regina in 2016 and had his new gimmick ready to go. Prior to the outlandish pants, Newton said he owned and wore a variety of cowboy boots. But when his back and ankles got sick of that schtick, he changed it up.

Newton with a green plaid pattern during a game this season.

A few years later, the colored patterns fill Newton’s closet. He said he owns about 20 pairs of offbeat pants, including “every color plaid you can think of.” One pair features the American flag, another shamrocks. Multi-colored diamonds cover another, and Regina-colored diamonds yet another.

“It’s some cool stuff,” he smiled.

Olszewski said Newton’s fashion statement is well known among the Regina community. She remembers watching Panthers games in grade school and wondering the backstory with the pants. The colorful circles are a classic, she said, but she might prefer the Christmas-themed pair with candy canes on them.

Newton said there is a method to the madness.

“It takes the pressure off the kids,” he said. “People are always asking about my pants and not talking to the kids. It frees them up during warmups. The officials are engaged with me, not them. Anything I can (do) to make it easier on them I’m all for it.”

Maybe he is on to something.

Newton and company have found sustained success over the last three seasons, picking up a regional title in each campaign and totaling 55 wins and counting.

This year has been the big breakthrough, however. The Panthers won sectional and supersectional titles for the first time in 21 seasons, since placing third in the state in 2003.

Newton said has about 20 different pairs of the specialty pants.

“I did not think we’d be here this year; I thought maybe next year,” Newton said, referring to the team’s youth. “They just keep achieving.”

Just like pants to Newton, basketball is a hallmark of Regina Dominican. The small Wilmette school has a rich history of hardwood heroism. The Panthers were a perennial power in the 1970s and ’80s, winning three straight sectionals from ’83-’85.

As girls basketball expanded, and other local programs, such as Loyola Academy, emerged, sustained success became more difficult at Regina. But the Panthers remained constant threats and consistently tallied 15 wins or more a season.

“I try to make the kids understand that, ‘Hey, you’re a part of this, too,'” Newton said. “Don’t just live in the present. Everything we do is for everyone who has worn a (Regina) shirt already. You’re the next generation and then some other kids will come up and do it for you.”

This recent stretch is the first time Regina has won at least three regionals in a row since the 1980s, and they are just getting started. Olszewski and Maddie Witchger are the only seniors on Regina’s roster, which is paced by three sophomores: Jillian DeFranza, Natalia Cerrado and Olivia Fraterrigo.

Regina opens its state weekend at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 29, in Normal against Peoria Notre Dame, a powerful program that previously played in Class 3A.

Newton wouldn’t reveal which pants will get the call on Thursday but said he had something special lined up.

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

Related Stories