When he started some 30 years ago, East Hardy’s Raymond Snapp never gave much thought about how long he would be a high school coach.
After last night he’s got plenty of reasons — 500 to be exact — to take a little extra time to reminisce about his years as a baseball coach. Monday’s doubleheader sweep of Tucker County moved him into the exclusive 500 Club, as his career record stands at 500-333 in 34 seasons.
Snapp, 60, admitted those kinds of numbers hardly seemed possible when he began coaching in 1978 at his alma mater, Mathias High, one of the schools that closed two years later to help form East Hardy.
“When I played in high school at Mathias we played only 12 games,’’ he said. “Then one year my coach scheduled 16 games, and we couldn’t believe it. We thought that was really something.”
Today, West Virginia teams can schedule 32 regular-season games. Maryland, in comparison, can schedule only 20.
East Hardy, a Class A school with an enrollment of just over 200, was state champion in 1987 and state runner-up in 2006. Last year, the Cougars were 26-9 and reached the state semifinals with likely the youngest team in the area, and in 2006 set a school record with 29 wins in 31 games, were the Times-News Area champions and had Alex Foltz voted Player of the Year.
Foltz is now a senior outfielder at Division I James Madison (Va.) University, where he is hitting .368 with six home runs and 23 RBIs.
“We’ve been lucky in that we’ve always had a few outstanding players every year,’’ Snapp said. “And when we’ve been fortunate enough to have more than a few, we’ve had really successful years. We’ve got a real good group of athletes right now and, for the majority of them, baseball is their No. 1 love. We started three freshmen last year and got all the way to the state semifinals.
“We kind of snuck up on everybody last year. We won’t be able to do that this year, although we are still young and have only three senior starters.”
Years have a way of sneaking up on people, too. When Snapp began coaching at Mathias, Jimmy Carter was president and the Washington Bullets were NBA champions. The next year, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series.
“Sports is a big part of my life. If not for sports, I don’t even know if I would have gone to college,’’ Snapp said, as his wife jokingly offered that he might not have made it through high school. “I’m a sports fanatic, I guess.”
Snapp, a catcher and part-time pitcher at Fairmont State, played baseball in the Rockingham (Va.) County League and independent basketball until age 40.
But it’s not just baseball he has coached since graduating from Fairmont State.
He coached boys basketball and baseball in 1978 at Mathias, and boys basketball, girls basketball and baseball in the school’s final year, 1979. At East Hardy he coached girls basketball for 29 years, retiring two years ago with a 418-255 record.
Counting baseball and girls basketball, Snapp has coached in 1,506 games, with his teams winning 918 of them.
But that’s not all.
He coached the East Hardy boys basketball team for two years, the East Hardy golf team for two years and the Mathias youth basketball team for a few seasons. Both golf teams, in 2008 and 2009, earned trips to the state tournament.
That’s a lot of players, teams, games and years. Also a lot of spinning numbers on bus odometers.
“That’s one thing I hate today, riding that old bus,’’ he said. “There have been an awful lot of long bus rides. I wish I would have written down all the bus driver’s names. We had a lot of good drivers. Always felt safe ... safe enough to sleep at times,” he said with a chuckle.
Today, when few coaches seem to last for more than one decade, Snapp is coaching in his fifth.
Some things, he has noticed, have changed. Some have not.
“I think our athletes today are a little better, stronger and faster than in the past because of the weight room. When I was in high school we never picked up a weight. But we worked harder on the farms and did a lot more manual labor than kids do today.
“The kids play a lot of games nowadays, but not like we used to, and I think that hurts them a little bit in the long run,’’ Snapp continued. “At recess and through grade school all we did was play ball. On the other hand, the kids today have so many more opportunities to play, especially during the summer time with Legion ball and travel teams. Our kids love it. A lot of them play all summer and several played fall ball in Winchester. There are a lot more opportunities today, and the kids need to take advantage of it.
“As for as the fundamentals, you still teach them the same way as when we played. I still enjoy it, and I still get a real thrill seeing the young players improve and develop into good ball players from their freshman year to their senior year.”
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at email@example.com