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Stepping down as leader of the Herd
Winter ending 38-year Manteca High career
Manteca High Principal Steve Winter is retiring in June. - photo by DENNIS WYATT
Steve Winter still remembers the day he first represented Manteca High.

Winter and several of his eighth grade buddies had wandered over to the Manteca High swimming pool where a meet was about to get underway. The coach – who knew Winter could swim – 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.

Even though it had been six months since he last swam, Winter jumped at the chance. By the meet’s end he had shaved 40 seconds off a school record and left little doubt that he was a Buffalo.

Winter’s allegiance is still as strong today to Manteca High as the first day he stepped on campus as a freshman in 1965 and then again as a history and physical education teacher in 1971. It helps explain why on Aug. 12 he’s told his bride Frona he has to be anywhere but in Manteca. That date starts the first school year in 38 years that Winter won’t be there when that first bell rings.

Winter is retiring in June after five years as Manteca High’s principal. He is the second in what will be a string of three Manteca High graduates to lead the “Home of the Buffaloes – Telka Walser before him and Doug McCreath who has been selected by the Manteca Unified board to follow him.

Winter, 61, has ties to Manteca High that even predate his attendance. His father – the late Dr. Robert C. Winter for whom the school gym is named – used to bring along his children to football and basketball games when he served as the Manteca High team physician.

“I remember doing things at Manteca High as a kid,” Winter recalled. “It was the only high school in town back then. As a 10-year-old I remember the big deal it was to go to a high school concert. They’d perform three nights in a row and the place would be packed each night. And when Friday night came during football season, it was the place to be in Manteca. Everyone was there.”

He noted a game between Tracy High and Manteca High wasn’t just a match between the Bulldogs and the Buffaloes. It was the City of Tracy versus the City of Manteca.

Winter recalls attending class in the old Manteca High Tower building where you could see field crops to the north and could hear sugar beet trucks rumbling down the narrow old highway that passed in front of Manteca High to reach Spreckels Sugar.

While a lot has changed at Manteca High over the years, one thing hasn’t. It’s what Winter proudly has imprinted on his business cards – the school’s “tradition of excellence.”

Manteca High’s “Tradition of Excellence”
Every year at graduation – including the upcoming one for the Class of 2009 – he starts the ceremonies at  Guss Schmeidt Field by asking those in attendance who graduated from Manteca High to stand up.

And after what appears to be nearly half of the crowd standing, he’ll turn to the graduating seniors and tell them that is what he means by the tradition of excellence.

“These are people who have raised families, built community, served (our country) and made contributions,” Winter said.

As a Buffalo, Winter played basketball and swam. 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.

Winter recalls how his feelings of disappointment that his record fell – that he kept to himself and didn’t verbalize - was eclipsed by the fact he was able to coach the athlete that broke it.

Winter ended up coaching basketball for 15 years including five years on the varsity level that encompassed two Valley Oak League championships. He also coached golf.

Winter said “athletics saved me.”’

“It’s important that kids have something to look forward to going to school for besides history class whether it is band, drama, athletics, JROTC or a club,” he said.

“When I was at Manteca High I was the big fish in a small pond,” Winter recalled.

Then he headed off to Delta where he knew he was too small to play basketball and didn’t opt to swim. He was on the verge of literally flunking out when he took a swim class where the instructor told him he should go out for the water polo team.

He ended up doing just that and “started hanging with motivated students who played water polo.”

“On breaks between classes instead of heading to the cafeteria like I used to do we’d all head to the library to study,” Winter said.

That eventually led to Sacramento State and a decision to go into teaching.

Swimming lessons got himhooked 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 said. “I learned a lot. I found what I liked and didn’t like. It motivated me to stay in college.”

Winter recalls meeting up with a friend – who went to work fulltime at LOOF – at a Manteca High football game shortly after he started teaching. They got to talking and compared salaries.

When his friend commented on the wage difference, Winter recalled saying “I make $8,000 a year as a teacher and you make $12,000 a year at LOOF and we’re both happy and that is more important than money.”

 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.

He hopes students who pass through Manteca High also benefit from good teaching and role models as well.

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.

When all is said and done, though, Winter is convinced Manteca High is a great school and it’s thanks to the strong teaching and support staff plus the students.

And when his final commencement exercise as principal rolls around, Winter will remember the proud feeling he had and what he said the first time he was up on the podium five years ago when he turned to his predecessor and the man who is now his boss – Bob Lee – who works as the district’s director of secondary education.

“I was once part of a Manteca High graduating class that was getting diplomas and now I’m presenting them.”