Turlock lost a legend Wednesday morning with the passing of longtime swim and water polo coach Steve Feaver.
A mainstay at Turlock High, Feaver coached for 39 years and is credited with introducing the sport of water polo to the area. But more than that, Feaver is remembered for his impact on the lives of his former players and students and the dedication in which he played his role of mentor.
“He’s one of those living legends. I never played aquatic sports, but he was one of those men you really respected,” Turlock High alumnus and current Athletic Director Anthony Belew said.
Feaver’s passion for aquatic sports began in his hometown of Hanford during his high school years where he competed on the water polo and swimming teams in addition to participating in football and band. After high school, Feaver continued competing in the pool; first as an All-American on the 800 Freestyle team at the College of Sequoias in Visalia then as senior captain for Fresno State University’s water polo team.
Feaver took the lessons learned as a competitor and brought them to Turlock High in September 1971, where he began teaching physical education and coaching the freshman football team while also assuming coaching duties as the Bulldogs’ first true swim coach. Two years later, in 1973, Feaver got the chance to share his true love with Turlock—water polo—as he formed the first Bulldog squad and helped to create a home for the sport in the Central California Conference.
“He built one of California’s most successful aquatics programs from scratch,” former Turlock High assistant principal and current Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District Superintendent Ed Felt said.
Feaver began to recruit and mold talent, sometimes with students who weren’t aware of their potential. With an eye for development, Feaver kicked off his tenure at Turlock with six consecutive winning overall seasons in swimming and four consecutive winning CCC seasons in water polo.
“I got cut from the baseball team and he talked me into swimming. He turned me into a swimmer,” said Bill Garton, Feaver’s first All-American swimmer at Turlock. “I was terrible, but after four years I developed into a pretty fast guy.”
Garton eventually received a full ride scholarship to the University of Pacific to swim and play goalie on the school’s water polo team.
The ability, and willingness, to not only develop the skill of his players but to also make a lasting impact on their lives outside of the pool was perhaps Feaver’s most endearing trait. Former colleague and rival coach for more than 30 years Brent Bohlender remembers.
“Sometimes you get a coach that develops a cult of a coach, but Steve never sought out to do anything like that. His players were just very loyal. Kids would get in at frosh/soph and they couldn’t wait to be coached by Steve at the varsity level,” Bohlender said.
Drew Clute was one such player.
“We always knew coach loved us and we always knew coach was there for us. There were days when he’d ride you hard and when you might not be his favorite person, but as an adult you look back and say there wasn’t a day when you didn’t respect him,” Clute said. “I just remember playing for a very good person.”
Feaver’s commitment to excellence and discipline, his integrity as a teacher and coach, and his many “Feaverisms” he shared during practices rubbed off on his players and spurred many, including Clute, to take up coaching, too.
“If you coach long enough, you move around and people influence you in different ways, but for sure no one has impacted me more,” Clute said. “He recognized what his purpose was and that was to provide leadership and be a good role model.”
“Steve was a Bulldog, but he had a sensitive side and he cared about the kids,” Felt said.
By the time he retired from coaching in 2011, Feaver had won 15 water polo league championships and 20 swimming league championships, in addition to claiming a water polo section title during the 1990-91 season and going undefeated from 1984 to 1990 in swimming.
But the awards, trophies, and accolades weren’t what kept him in the hearts of those who knew him; it was his constant smile and caring disposition. Garton felt that love for his former coach and it’s what led him to his bedside days before his death.
“He still had that wit about him, the character about him, and we talked about the old times,” Garton said. “He was just a highly respected person, and he was one of those people who respected the kids, too. He’s a very courageous man. We love him and we’ll miss him.”
Recently, Feaver was in attendance to drop the ball at the revived Central California Conference versus Modesto Metro Conference All-Star water polo match where he caught up with old friends. Now, with his bout with cancer over, residents of Turlock and future Bulldog pool junkies will be able to remember the man known as simply “coach” to so many every time the Steve Feaver Aquatic Center opens its gates.
“I’ll think of all the good times we’ve had as friends and as rival coaches. I always looked forward to seeing him and I’m going to miss seeing him on the deck,” Bohlender said.
“I always felt that Steve used the swimming pool as his classroom,” Felt said. “We lost a great educator in Steve Feaver.”
Feaver is survived by his wife and high school sweetheart Virginia, his daughter Erika Jimenez and her husband Nick, his son Ryan Feaver and his wife Karla, his grandchildren Natalie and Noelle Jimenez and Molly and Charlie Feaver, as well as his brother Cliff Feaver.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the First United Methodist Church, 1660 Arbor Way, Turlock, CA 95380; the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 1500 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 200, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266, pancan.org; or Sequoia Lake Conference of YMCAs, 49716 Highway 180, Miramonte, CA 93641.
Memorial services are pending; check back at turlockjournal.com for updated information.
“I was put on this earth to do a certain job, and that was to be a teacher and mentor and role model for young kids.”—Steve Feaver