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Steve Winter bleeds Buffalo green
steve winter
Then San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools Mick Founts, left, congratulated Steve Winter in 2012 after ceremonies naming the Manteca High swimming pool in his honor.

For more than 70 years, Manteca High School has been a part of Steve Winter’s life.

And even though the retired principal and member of the Class of 1965 doesn’t report to the campus every day like he did for decades, Winter still tries to make it to every home football game and as many Buffalo basketball games as he can make in a single season.

That’s what happens when you grow up around the school that historically been the heart of the community.

“I try to explain to people what it was like when Manteca High was the only high school in town. Friday night when the whole town went to the football game, it wasn’t just Manteca High School against Tracy High School – it was the City of Manteca against the City of Tracy because the place was packed with this feeling of intensity,” Winter said. “That has changed a little bit, but you when you have two basketball teams that are good and they’re playing in Winter Gym, you can still get that feeling of excitement – the game where if you don’t have a seat by the time the sophomore game starts, you aren’t going to have one.

“Those games aren’t very fun as an administrator, but as a player or a coach or a fan they’re amazing and it’s an electric feeling that is hard to describe.”

According to Winter, he started going to games and events with his father – for whom the school’s large gym is named – in the late 1950s, and always knew that Manteca High School was something special. Winter’s father served as the team physician for Buffalo sports teams for decades. The pool was named in Steve Winter’s honor for his dedication to the school plus the fact he was a swimming standout when he attended as a student and set several records.

When he was in middle school at Lincoln Elementary he watched every day as work was completed on what would become Guss Schmiedt Field. He proudly talks about how he was at the last football game ever played at Pennebaker Field and the first one ever played at the field that replaced it – a place that he still visits a half-dozen times every year.

With more than 25 years in the classroom teaching history and more than a decade at the helm as the school’s principal, Winter has left an indelible mark on the school that runs through his blood and will always be a part of him.

While things have changed as Manteca has grown, it’s still a place where graduates migrate home years after leaving to continue that tradition the way that he did – in the classroom and on the sporting field.

“When you’re there it gives you such a warm feeling – a feeling of home, and a feeling of family,” Winter said of what it’s like to a staff member at the beloved institution. “When these people go back into the field of education, and an opportunity comes up for them to go back home, they take it.”

While he’s enjoying his retirement and time with his family, Winter says that the one thing that never really goes away is missing the kids that he was blessed to work with – young people, he said, that taught him more than he ever taught them.

So even in retirement Winter finds a way to stay involved in the youth of America as a volunteer for the California Interscholastic Federation – running the boys and girls Section Master’s golf meets and serving on an appeals council that rules on the decisions that are made regarding student-athletes.

While the pool that once bore his name is now gone – a larger one is currently under construction – and the days of the Winter Gym, one of the smallest in the Valley Oak League, are numbered as the school prepares to educate as many as 2,500 kids in the coming years, Winter doesn’t see any issue with the school growing to serve even more people.

“To me that’s growth – it’s something that the school needs,” he said. “The need for a larger gym has been there for years, and it’s a blessing that we’re getting a facility that the school deserves.

“If that means that Winter Gym goes away – if that is what is best for the community and the kids – then I’ll all for it. God willing, I’ll be there at the first game in the new gym.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.