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Buffs name pool for former principal
Steve Winters commitment to Manteca High runs deep
Steve Winter visited the Manteca High swimming pool on Tuesday. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Steve Winter left his mark on Manteca High before he was even a student.

Winter was an eighth grader when Dave Honey - a high school buddy who was a freshman on the swim team - talked him into coming watch him compete as part of the Buffalo swim team.

Buffalo coach Don Reed knew Winter could swim and he had a few holes to plug on his “B” team. So he told Winter he had a pair of trunks if he wanted to compete.

Winter thought “why not” even though he hadn’t swam for at least six months. His buddy even had to show him the strokes because he wasn’t sure which ones were used in the intermediate medley. By the time the meet was over with back on that spring day in 1964 Winter had shaved 40 seconds off the school record and he still had months to go before he was even in high school.

Winter is returning to the Manteca High swimming pool on Friday. This time around school officials aren’t going to ask him to don swim trunks. Instead they are going to honor Winter by dedicating the facility as the R. Stephen Winter Pool.

And if you think they’re doing it because of his swimming prowess, guess again.

Winter dedicated 38 years of his life to the students and staff of Manteca High. He started his career as a history and physical education teacher in 1971 and ended it in 2009 after a five-year stint as principal. In between his impact was felt from the classroom to the basketball court. That included 15 years as the varsity boys’ basketball coach with championships in 1980 and 1981, two years as swim coach and 24 years as golf coach.

Then there was his high school career that started as a freshman in 1965.

“I loved baseball but there was one problem - I couldn’t bat or throw,” Winter chuckled.

It’s why Winter stuck with swimming and played basketball as a forward. He ended up holding several records in the 100 fly, breaststroke, freestyle and the 140 IM. The 140 IM record was the last to fall. It happened while he was coaching the boy who broke it – Jeff Walker.

Went to Manteca High games with his father

But Winter’s connection to Manteca High goes back even earlier than that.

He attended his first Manteca High football game as a 10-year-old with his father Dr. Robert C. Winter who for years was an icon on the campus volunteering his services so games could be played.

Dr. Winter’s service as team physician and dedication as a Buffalo fan was legendary. It was what led to the main gym being named in Dr. Winter’s honor back on April 3, 1979 when his son was in his eighth year of teaching.

And that is also what will make Friday’s ceremonies even more special. The swimming pool that will bear Winter’s name is right next to the gym that honors his father.

Winter gets emotional when he talks about the huge impact his father and mother Dolly had on him. It’s the same sincere voice that describes how much Manteca High meant to him as a kid, as a student, as a teacher, as a coach, and as a principal.

And while Winter can tell you about the days when the Manteca-Tracy rivalry meant you had to get to the gym or football field hours ahead of the start of the game just to get in or how a high school band concert was packed for three consecutive nights, what will really produce his trademark smile is talking about making a difference in the life of a student.

“I always told student teachers you never know when you are going to say something that has a lasting impact on a student,” Winter said.

Winter said the greatest reward of teaching is having a former student come up to you years later and telling you that there was something that you said that helped make a big difference in their life and that they remember itever since you said it.

Swimming lessons got him hooked on teaching

Teaching – or returning to Manteca High in any form – was the last thing on his mind when he graduated from Manteca High in 1965.

What got him hooked on teaching were two things. He discovered he enjoyed working with kids when he taught swimming lessons while going to Delta College. The other were two stints at LOOF glass plant in Lathrop in the summer of 1967 and again in the summer of 1971 in a work program designed for college students.

“It was great job,” Winter recalled back in 2009. “I learned a lot. I found what I liked and didn’t like. It motivated me to stay in college.

 Winter credited high school coaches like Vic Walker and Dino Cunial as well as history teachers like Terry Fix and Phil Harmon for having made a big influence on him.

His one regret about being principal is the fact that the farther he went up in administration, the farther he got away from regular daily contact with the reason he went into teaching – the students.

Winter tries to catch as many Manteca High games that he can work in his retirement schedule.

But to be honest, you might not see him too much around the Manteca High swimming pool this season. That’s because he’ll be watching his grandson Corey Winter as much as possible as he competes as a sophomore for Ripon High. As a freshman, his grandson swam varsity and was consistently a top Indian swimmer.

Which begs the question: Who was the better swimmer as a freshman?

“Corey,” Winter said without hesitation. “No doubt about it.”