PHOTO PROVIDED - At the uncovered Warren Daugherty Pool, from left: Wally 'Chick' Ciochetti, Ron Pupke, Cindy Clearwater Moon, Jeff Turay and Bud Taylor.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series on the evolution of the South Lane School District and Ron Pupke’s role in this sea change. Read part 1 here.

There was a time when grades 7, 8, and 9 were called junior high school. At Lincoln Junior High, there was a school newspaper and many other activities, some of which went by the wayside when the system, now known as middle school, was reconfigured into grades 6, 7, and 8.

Wally “Chick” Ciochetti preceded Ron Pupke in Cottage Grove by a couple of years. He was installed at the high school in 1951 and gained near-legendary status as a coach and teacher. While Pupke wasn’t perhaps given the same accolades, that didn’t stop them from being best of friends and working together during their careers and beyond. “We saw eye to eye on everything, even if he was a lowly army man,” said the USMC 2nd Lieutenant Pupke. 

Pupke’s gift was being able to build the foundation in his athletes, with fundamental skills – teamwork, strength, and stamina. Pupke was known to play all the kids on his team, not just the best ones, and making it more about the fun of playing competitively than just winning, even though his teams often did.

 This was one of the reasons Pupke turned down repeated offers to coach at the high school level. There was just too much pressure to win, and he felt it wouldn’t have the same reward as having the joy he felt coaching at the junior high level. Additionally, he had decided that Cottage Grove was where he wanted to raise his family and had put down roots here.

 Pupke realized a lot of growth happens in the middle years, both physically and mentally, and that his kids’ bodies were all on individual development schedules. So Pupke took his clay where he found it and tried to mold it through instruction, exercise and practice. He expressed his philosophy thusly, “You never know how big you’ll get in high school. If you get bigger that’s okay but as long as you’ve learned your moves and have good balance you can get up under your opponent. If you don’t get that big you can use those skills to exploit someone bigger that has always relied on their size.” 

In Chick, Pupke found the perfect complement. Chick was a student of the sport. Obsessed with refining performance, he studied gamefilms and made the team watch those too. He was recognized as an exceptional coach in track and field, working on the Olympic team for Mexico and for the Pan American Games, along with numerous track events at the University and beyond. But that is a story for another time.

What is important for this history is that Chick took the athletes that Pupke had fundamentally prepared and directed them upwards in high school. This dynamic duo had met while both were at the University of Oregon enrolled in the physical education classes. Although aware of each other they didn’t really get to know each other until they crossed paths again, working in sports and physical education for Cottage Grove schools.

Besides developing strong bodies and characters, they collaborated on a community-driven quest, preventing youth drownings. With rivers and the two lakes created by the flood control dams, it was all too common that young Grovers would drown while seeking recreation.

An alarmed community had made it a priority to try and prevent this through education. Chick and Pupke started teaching local youth to swim, at first in Cottage Grove Lake, later at the Daugherty pool, constructed in 1955 through a community effort. The decision to build a pool required fundraising from the community, and an angel donor, Warren Daughterty, who quietly provided the bulk of the money. 

Once the pool was built, Cottage Grove School District became one of the few in Oregon to offer swimming instruction at the elementary level. Ron and his wife Sim, got the classes going soon after the pool construction was finished. The time the pool was an open-air affair. Ron and Chick shared use time for the pool. Since Pupke had younger kids they got to go in the fall when the water was warmer, the tougher high schoolers got to dip their toes in the cooler spring water.

In those days, teachers were only paid for the nine months they instructed students. The rest of the year was on them to figure out how to survive financially until the start of the next school year. Some teachers took a summer job at one of the small mills. Pupke and Chick took on the pool as their summer jobs. 

Besides teaching many of the swimming and lifesaving classes, managing the youthful staff, the pair had to handle the filters and water quality. Cindy Moon, one of Pupke’s students from Jefferson, who worked for many summers at the pool, remembers that the Ciochetti and Pupke kids spent their summers at the pool while their dads were working there. She said that few people had such strong and long term effects on the community than Pupke and Chick through their efforts to make sure everyone learned how to swim.

Next week: Part III concludes with more on swimming, and girls’ athletics.

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