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Teacher and coach Steve Craven dies

He helped many kids at Tarpon Springs High, especially through his work with the dropout prevention program.

Published March 1, 2005

[Photo courtesy of Lonnie Perryman]
Steve M. Craven was a teacher and coach at Tarpon Springs High School for nearly 35 years.

Steve M. Craven, a popular teacher and coach who guided generations of Tarpon Springs High School students on and off the playing field, died Monday (Feb. 28, 2005) at age 68.

Mr. Craven taught at Tarpon Springs High for nearly 35 years, from spring 1969 to fall 2003.

Asan assistant coach and offensive coordinator for the Spongers' football team, he helped lead Tarpon Springs High School to a half-dozen district championships. As the baseball coach, he borrowed a tractor to spread sand and clay in the creation of a school baseball diamond.

But it was as a teacher and team leader in the school's dropout prevention program that Mr. Craven did his most important work.

"Coach Craven, he was one of the best guys there was," said former student Larry Kobielnik, 29, of New Port Richey. "If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have a high school diploma, and God knows where would I be."

Kobielnik came to Tarpon Springs High School as a freshman with a history of skipping classes and causing trouble. There, he and many others met Mr. Craven, one of the original team members of the school's GOALS dropout prevention program.

Mr. Craven understood that many students lacked someone at home who had high expectations for them, so he often filled that role, colleagues said.

"With some kids, it might be acting like their dad; with some students, it might be acting like their uncle," said Dee Burns, the school district's administrator for dropout prevention services.

With Kobielnik, Mr. Craven was both a tough disciplinarian and a shrewd counselor.

As a sophomore, Kobielnik was ready to leave school after being blamed for a prank.

"For once, it was something I didn't do," Kobielnik said. "I told him, "Coach, this is ridiculous. I'm not coming back.' He looked at me and said, "You'd better be here tomorrow."'

The next day, Kobielnik stayed home. By the end of first period, Mr. Craven had left school and driven the 3 miles to Kobielnik's home and was pounding on the door.

"Let's go," he said.

Mr. Craven helped Kobielnik in other ways, too. While still in school, Kobielnik worked at a Winn-Dixie, and Mr. Craven suggested that he buy some stock in the company. As a teenager, he bought 30 shares.

By the time Kobielnik had graduated from high school and served in the Marine Corps, the stock had split and appreciated nicely. He cashed it in.

"That's what put me through the police academy," said Kobielnik, a former Tarpon Springs police officer who now screens passengers at Tampa International Airport.

Kobielnik said, "It's the little decisions that he helped me make" that helped him earn the money for a four-bedroom house with a pool.

At Thanksgiving, Mr. Craven recruited GOALS students to help serve holiday dinners at the Shepherd Center in Tarpon Springs. When kids asked him whether he was going to retire, "he would always tell us, "Nope. I can't. I've got to get you through this year,' " Kobielnik said.

Through GOALS, which stands for Graduation Options: Alternatives to Leaving School, Mr. Craven helped students become more self-reliant and not give up, colleagues say.

"We help the kid set up some kind of game plan," Mr. Craven told an interviewer in 1982. "Explore all the problems, explore how you got to that situation. ...

"You take time to show them there are alternatives and they realize, "Hey, I can do these things and still cope.' They begin to recognize the situation. What happens when you go into a bathroom and all of a sudden your friends are there, and someone whips out a joint, what are you going to do? Are you strong enough if someone hands you a joint to walk away from it?"

Mr. Craven was born in Palm Beach and spent part of his childhood in Tampa before moving to Pomona, Calif., where he graduated from high school and attended junior college. He served in the Army and later moved back to Tampa, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tampa.

In Tampa, he played semi-pro football and taught and coached at Sacred Heart Academy and Jesuit High School. In addition to teaching at Tarpon Springs High, he also worked for the city as a recreation specialist, running the summer camp program and adult athletic leagues. He was a member of Saint Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, AHEPA and the Elks Lodge and was a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Tarpon Springs.

Mr. Craven died at Hernando-Pasco Hospice's West Pasco Care Center in New Port Richey. He is survived by his stepmother, Marcel Radice of Tampa; a sister, Betty Bruns of Albuquerque, New Mexico; two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law and many nieces and nephews. Vinson Funeral Home in Tarpon Springs is handling the arrangements.

[Last modified March 1, 2005, 01:11:12]

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