In the Lowcountry, weather delays are common at summer league swim meets.
While some teams quickly postpone their matchups for thunder and lightning, others are willing to wait.
And so it was, on June 20, 2006, while waiting for the sky to clear at a swim meet at Shadowmoss, that Snee Farm head coach Jason Kreutner first mentioned to team mom Allison Leggett an idea that had been percolating in his head for a decade: He wanted to open his own private school. Until then, Kreutner, now 37, had never told anyone other than his family.
"As we were waiting, I spilled the beans," he says. "The moment came up, and it was on my mind, so I told Allison about it."
Not only was Leggett supportive, but "she gave me the kick in the pants that I needed," he says.
A year later, the doors opened on a new independent school for "curious, high-achieving students," the University School of the Lowcountry.
Housed in rented rooms in a Sunday school wing at Mount Pleasant's Hibben
United Methodist Church, the school started with eight students in the sixth and seventh grades. One more came after the winter break. The school year began this week with 23 students in the fourth through eighth grades. Ninth grade will be added next year.
"Last year, students came on a promise because there was nothing to show them," Kreutner says. "The hard part is over now."
Building a dynasty
Kreutner grew up in Mount Pleasant, where he started swimming at age 4 and for years swam for the Charleston Tennis Club (now Creekside Tennis and Swim Club) and the year-round Lowcountry Sea Devils.
His older brother, Erik, often has said that Jason had the most talent out of the four swimming Kreutners, but Jason says, "I had the worst practice habits. I tell my swimmers now that I am a better coach than I was a swimmer. As a coach, I am trying to instill that respect and inculcate the toughness that I didn't have as a swimmer."
In 1985, Jason decided to sit out the swim season. That same year, Snee Farm, which had won the Coastal Carolina Aquatic Association championship meet in 1980, '81 and '82, hired top area swimmers, including Erik, as assistant coaches to swim for them in the pursuit of another championship. The tactic worked but angered Snee Farm residents, who felt their children got a raw deal. The next year, the team struggled under a new coach when several neighborhood kids did not return.
Erik then became Snee Farm's third head coach in as many years and hired his younger brother as an assistant.
Over the next three years, they took a new approach, focusing on "fundamentals, caring, fun and competition for all swimmers," according to the team's Web site.
In 1989, the year Jason graduated from Porter-Gaud School, the team started a city championship streak that has lasted 20 seasons. Then, about to begin his third year in medical school, Erik handed the team to Jason, who has served as head coach since.
While the team has coasted to city meet victories most years, the summer of 2008 will be remembered as the year the streak almost came to an end. With two relays left after three days of competition, just 3.5 points separated Snee Farm and the Coosaw Creek Crocodiles, which had handed Snee Farm a rare loss weeks earlier in head-to-head competition.
In the end, Snee Farm nipped Coosaw by a final score of 2,863-2,853.5, the closest finish in two decades. And although the streak is safe for another year, Kreutner knows it can't go on forever.
"I'm always waiting for the shoe to drop," he says. "It's going to happen, so you always prepare yourself for how you're going to be when it does. When Coosaw beat us this year at home, I think we handled ourselves well and we were very impressed with how well Coosaw handled themselves."
With about 175 swimmers each summer, Kreutner often has the talent and depth on his roster to slam opponents in dual-meet competition. But he doesn't.
"We're in this for the long run," he says. "We've been competing against the same coaches and the same teams for a long time. It's about being responsible. Isn't it a noble thing to try to be a really good team but also want to earn other people's respect and have people say that they enjoy competing with you?"
In fact, those 20 championship trophies are important, but just as important to Kreutner are the sportsmanship plaques, voted on each year by the teams in the league. Snee Farm has won it each of the three years since it was instituted.
Swimming is a rare sport in that a child can grow up competing on the same team, allowing coach and athlete to form deep bonds.
"Spending 13 or 14 summers with someone, it cannot be replaced," Kreutner says. "Watching them grow up has made me a much better educator, coach and father because I know how short life is. When they graduate, you're always tickled pink when they come back to visit. I have some who still check in with me every summer."
While Kreutner spends summers on the pool deck, the rest of the year he is in the classroom. In the early years, he worked on his undergraduate degree from the South Carolina Honors College and graduate school at Emory University when he wasn't coaching.
"I always knew I wanted to be in education," he says, but he saw himself in higher education until he was hired at Columbia's Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. "Then, I knew that grade school and high school age was what I wanted to do."
Three years later in 2002, when his wife's job with Gilligan's Steamer and Raw Bar restaurants brought her to Charleston, Kreutner was hired at Porter-Gaud, and in 2005, he was lured to Charleston Collegiate by Headmaster Bob Shirley, who previously had been at Heathwood Hall. At the time Kreutner had the conversation with Leggett, he was finishing a National Association of Independent Schools Fellowship for Aspiring School Heads.
"The reason I started my own school is that institutions are hard to change," he says. "So if you have a lot of ideas and a lot of things that you'd like to see, it becomes much easier to start a school than to change one."
Those ideas include having flexible classes instead of set class periods and weekly "Learning Outside the Classroom" programs that take students places such as Fort Moultrie, Windwood Farm and the Medical University of South Carolina.
"It's not just the teacher and the student and kids who are six months plus or minus their age for 180 days," he says. "We met a 28-year-old potter and 65-year-old curator of the American Military Museum. And that's what life is about."
In addition, University School students serve as mentors for the youngsters in Hibben's preschool and are mentored by students from area high schools.
The school, which can house up to 75 students at Hibben, will stay in its current location for the foreseeable future.
"We won't build our own building until we can almost pay cash for it," he says.
With so much on his plate, Kreutner knows that some day, he may have to choose between the swim team and the school.
"Enough people have been around long enough that the team would be just fine," he says. "Snee Farm is not about any individual swimmer or coach. The team would be fine without me. But it's hard for me to imagine a summer without it."
For more information on the University School of the Lowcountry, visit www.uslowcountry.org.
Born: 1971.Occupation: Founder and head of the University School of the Lowcountry and head coach of Snee Farm Swim Team since 1990.Education: Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the South Carolina Honors College; master's degree in history from Emory University.Family: Wife, Ashleigh (Tasha) Eady; daughter, Elizabeth "Kessler" Kreutner-Eady, 3 1/2, who recently announced she wants to swim for Snee Farm next year.on Meeting his wife: Although Kreutner's mother, OB/GYN Dr. Karen Kreutner, delivered her, the couple didn't meet until they were in college.Educational philosophy: "My educational philosophy has evolved over time to where you teach everyone else how to teach everyone else, so that they become empowered and know all the tools."Former swimmers coaching other teams: Many coaches of area top teams have been with their teams for years. "It doesn't seem that we're going anywhere, and there are a lot of swimmers who could be great coaches, so they have to coach somewhere else. It's awesome to watch them take on things and figure out how to make their own way."Learning outside the classroom opportunities: "There are all these awesome things to see and do in the Lowcountry. I've lived here almost my whole life, but there are places I haven't been. It's good for students to watch their teachers be curious and interested in learning about new things."
Jason Kreutner gets some affection from his daughter, Kessler, at the conclusion of the 2008 City Championship meet in July. His wife, Tasha Eady, is behind him.×
Kreutner shares a laugh with Snee Farm swimmer Nate Silvestri at his team's meet against Brickyard this summer.×
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