Going deep

William Busch’s scuba classes have generated
talented divers and lifelong relationships.
Thursday, December 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:25 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The aroma of chlorine fills your nose and drowns out other odors as you step through the doors of MU’s Natatorium. A beige, nondescript building flanked by trees at Rollins Street and Maryland Avenue, the 40-year-old Natatorium houses swimming lanes, two pools and a diving board — as well as stabilizing jacket and regulator.

One may wonder: Why the extra gear?

The answer: The Natatorium is also home to William Busch, professor emeritus at MU.

Scuba class provides more than just basic requirements

The 66-year-old Busch teaches a class on scuba — self-contained underwater breathing apparatus -— and has been doing so since he assisted in designing the Natatorium upon his arrival at MU in 1964.

Busch’s class seeks to do more than let potential divers earn their recreational C-card, or basic diver certification. It requires students to take 64 hours of water work and 64 hours of theory, as well as pass the YMCA Physical Fitness Land Test. This is all done at a pace students can handle.

“You go in small steps and learn a lot in the water,” teaching assistant Sara Slaughter said.

Slaughter and her twin sister, Julia, have helped with Busch's class since 2001. Sara Slaughter said the class ensures that students become accustomed to the equipment gradually, starting with snorkels and masks and working up to managing stabilizing jackets and sophisticated buoyancy compensators to control their dives. This is done to allow students to feel comfortable in the water and not become overwhelmed, she said.

By the time students are experienced, passing challenges such as the thimble test — in which students must put on their masks and snorkels underwater and make sure less than a thimbleful of water is inside the masks when they surface — may not seem so difficult.

And thanks to Busch’s methods, they aren’t: The class has certified thousands of divers since its inception, with a number becoming conservation agents, archaeologists and Navy SEALs. Some now have jobs in the Caribbean.

“We’re proud of that,” Busch said of the range of employment former students enjoy.

Experienced teacher, passion for diving

Most of those students probably did not gain fascination with diving the way Busch did.

Busch said that as a freshman in college, in two weeks he twice attempted to save drowning victims in his hometown of Jerseyville, Ill.

He arrived roughly 30 minutes later on each scene and was not successful, but the town was thankful and gave him money to buy equipment to assist in the recovery of drowned swimmers.

He purchased Aqualung diving gear and then learned the basics of diving from a Navy diver who lived in town.

With this under his diving belt, Busch continued and finished college, and his time on the swimming team at Southern Illinois University only furthered his desire to learn more and teach others about scuba diving. He traveled to Chicago and found what he was looking for.

“I was in the first certification class for instructors (around 1960),” Busch said.

More than 40 years later, he is an experienced teacher whose passion for diving has been passed on to his students.

“I learned a lot from his teaching,” a student of Busch’s who is now an instructor.

Lottes graduated from MU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1972 and a master’s degree in the same discipline in 1973. He also left an indelible mark on Busch’s class: the aptly named Lottes I and Lottes II aquatic challenges, which deprive the diver of vision in attempt to imitate possible real-life situations.

Lottes said the tasks make students answer the question, “Can you keep from panicking and perform a simple task?”

Busch is teacher, mentor, friend

Lottes is director of aquatics at the University of Kansas and teaches a scuba class much like Busch’s class. Lottes, who after graduating worked side by side with Busch in the late 1970s as the MU pool supervisor, said it was Busch who suggested teaching.

“He was my mentor, friend and employer,” Lottes said.

And the friend part often shows through. Just watching Busch in action shows the care and admiration he has for his students. He gives students advice when sick or injured, rallies them when they are tired or downhearted and even listens to more personal problems.

“It’s something you don’t see a lot of instructors do,” Lottes said. “You could talk to him and he’d understand.”

Perhaps that is why students come back to see Busch. He said there are visitors in his house many weekends, and sometimes he can be seen carrying a stack of papers on which are written the names and numbers of people who he has to call or call back. “This is my family,” Busch said.

Back by the pool, Busch called his class “one of the toughest in the world” but claims the class is for anyone who wants to finish it.

“All this class is, is a head trip,” Busch said, citing football captains who have dropped out before relaying the story of a 98-pound, 50-year-old mother of two who passed his class without a problem.

Both Lottes and Slaughter agree with Busch’s assessment.

Lottes said Busch won’t let students slide by, but he helps them when they need it.

“He’ll work with you to do it yourself,” Lottes said.

Slaughter simply remains confident in Busch’s teaching skills.

“He’s a really good teacher,” Slaughter said. “He knows what he’s talking about.”

Busch, meanwhile, remains humorously optimistic about teaching and his future.

“I’d quit if (students) all weren’t so fun to razz,” he said with a smile.

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