Dedicated volunteer helps teach Craig children swimming, safety
Editor’s note: With this edition of our series of educator profiles, we recognize one of the many people in our community who walks side-by-side with our teachers in helping to educate our children. We honor the significant contributions made by volunteers in the schools.
CRAIG — Colorado is a landlocked state, but water is everywhere, and ensuring Craig children can swim safely has been both a passion and pleasure for one dedicated volunteer.
Steve Tegtman, 72, is a former hard rock miner who became a mine inspector, a job that brought him and his family to Craig. He is also a swimmer.
“I’ve always been a swimmer. I started when I was 6,” he said.
As a young man, he competed in the sport as a young man.
“I swam for the Amateur Athletic Union from fifth grade through high school. I was a 100-meter backstroker and freestyle swimmer,” he said. “I won a few big awards in those days. It was big, but compared to now, not really.”
For the last 16 years, he’s shared his talent as a volunteer for the Craig Elementary School swimming program, assisting with and witnessing the development of swimmers in Moffat County. Tegtman first instructed kids in swimming in his hometown of Longmont.
“It’s been a lifelong experience. Both my parents were teachers; it’s in my blood,” he said.
Unless an alternative can be offered, the closure of the high school pool may mark the end of Tegtman’s time in Craig. He expects a class with Sunset Elementary School students on Friday will be the last he teaches for a program with an uncertain future.
Craig Press: How did you get involved in the elementary school swim program?
Steve Tegtman: I started in 2001, because I wanted to teach my children, Colter and Laurel, how to swim. Ann Wagner started the program. Then, Susan Nicholson carried it on. She recruited me. Then, Matt Ray, Shannon Samuelson, Brett Sperl, Karen Rhonke, Kristie Shepard, Johnny Ford and Tim Hurst. If you don’t have volunteers, the program doesn’t work. It falls on its nose.
CP: What has kept you volunteering for the program after your own children were done?
Tegtman: When I first got in the water with these kids, I was hooked. I thought, what a great experience this is to teach these kids some skills. I’ve had kids come back and tell me thanks. I’ve got a box full of letters. It would line these walls with the letters that I’ve got. I’m going to copy them and offer them to the museum.
CP: How does the program work?
Tegtman: Each school, originally first grade through fourth grade and now first to fifth grade, get 8 or 9 days in the pool, and then, we rotate to the next school. We use Red Cross training and always talk safety to all the kids. Friday is the last day here with Sunset School. On those days, I’m in the water about six hours each day, times four schools. After 16 years, that’s a lot of volunteer time.
CP: In what ways do you think the program has made a difference to students?
Tegtman: It’s been fun to watch them grow-up. Some of them will always have that skill to swim. I believe that’s really important. We have water everywhere. The safety aspects have been talked about. Kids need help with their coordination. You have to breathe right, hold your head right and kick right. I’ve bailed more children out of this pool than you can shake a stick at. It’s a magnificent program, … if it could just carry on, but I’m afraid the decision has been made.
CP: How will the closure of the high school pool impact you, personally?
Tegtman: I don’t think I’ll be able to stay here. I have had mine injuries that hurt my back. Sixty-four laps in the pool every night makes me feel better. I don’t want to leave, but I can’t afford to drive to Meeker every day to swim.
CP: Is the pool dangerous?
Tegtman: No. I think this pool has been a problem for a long time. It’s a Chester Pool, an aluminum pool. They put the liner in it in the early 1990s, but they didn’t think about electrolysis, and the pool has eroded. The liner has been exceptionally good, but now, when you stomp on some areas of the liner, you’re on dirt. It’s not dangerous, but it’s probably time to close the pool. We’ve put it off a number of years, but it’s to that point.
CP: When Joe Patrone was the superintendent of schools, a community group was convened to create a solution. Do you know why that effort failed?
Tegtman: Joe Patrone was very supportive. He was from Wyoming. He told me of how he watched neighborhood kids drown and couldn’t do anything about it, because he couldn’t swim. We talked about fixes for the pool and what we could do. That got slipped into a back pocket somewhere. I don’t know what happened.
CP: A new effort is underway to build a pool for Craig. What kind of facility do you feel would serve best?
Tegtman: I’d like to see a centralized location, like the Safeway building or Kmart building — a pool complex, along with other entertainment facilities in the same building to provide a place for kids to go. When I was young, we had TAC, a Friday nightclub with chaperoned dances. I think the school does a good job with the fall dances and the prom, but I think we need somewhere the kids could go to play pool and socialize, instead of going out in the county somewhere to binge drink.
CP: Besides money, what do you think it will take for the community to be successful?
Tegtman: A pool is probably a losing proposition for a school district. We have to have the school board behind things — the county commissioners and the city council. They all have to agree, and that doesn’t happen very often. A concerted effort is what is needed.
CP: What else would you like readers to know?
Tegtman: The reward has been there with me for these kids. I can’t thank Susan enough for getting me into this. It has been a wonderful thing to do. A program like this wouldn’t have worked without a great deal of effort by many people coordinating the classes (and) working the locker rooms and parents doing this with their children.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
Two local Boy Scouts are making Craig’s Smoky Bear in front of the Bureau of Land Management Little Snake River field office better prepared to weather the elements.