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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 20, 2008

Don Snyder is honored for remarkable work as soccer coach

By Jordan J. Michael

GUILDERLAND –– The only person surprised about Don Snyder being a Hall of Fame coach is Don Snyder.

“The tribute was kind of unexpected, but great,” said Snyder, the 38 year Guilderland varsity boys’ soccer coach, who retired in2002. “I’m the first coach from Section II in this group. I’m glad they thought of me.”

Snyder is referring to the New York State High School Soccer Coaches Association, which made the legendary coach an official Hall of Fame member on Saturday in Oneonta. The ceremony was held at the National Soccer Hall of Fame, during the New York State boys’ soccer championships.

Snyder was part of the 2008 class that included Mike Huey from Section XI and Duane Rinker from Section IV.

Rich Gifford and Mark Havis of the 1967 undefeated Dutchmen team were on hand to honor Snyder. “It was so nice of them to do that. I’m so happy they did,” Snyder said. “On top of that, I also got to see a few guys I used to play soccer with in college. Oh man, the memories.”

Those “guys” were teammates of Snyders on the 1955 national championship team from the State University of New York College at Brockport. “Soccer was so different back then. There wasn’t a Division II or III, all the college teams were together,” he said.

Snyder started the Guilderland soccer program in 1963 with a junior varsity team, moving to varsity in 1964. He had been a science teacher at Guilderland since 1959.

“I got asked to start a soccer program and it was no problem because I loved the game,” Snyder said. “We started with an intramural team and moved on from there. It was an exciting time and some good athletes came out.”

Almost four decades later, Snyder had racked up 492 wins, 12 Suburban Council titles, seven Section II championships, three regional crowns, and one state title in 1989. Calling his coaching career successful would be an understatement.

Jim Gillis, who was a junior varsity coach under Snyder for 13 years, from 1978 to 1991, says that everyone learned a lesson from the coach.

“It was all about having a passion for the game and loving to be a coach,” said Gillis, who has been the Berne-Knox-Westerlo varsity coach ever since. “His teams had a lot of success over a long period of time. If you think about it, he has affected about 700 different people in a unique way.”

Snyder told The Enterprise that he never really thought about how many years he would coach. It turned out to be many. “I just kept coming back every year. If you love something, you continue to do it because you enjoy it,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Can’t do it alone

The great success came from the great players he coached. “Soccer has given more to me than I’ve given to soccer,” said Snyder. “The kids I coached were tremendous, on and off the field. They brought excitement to my life.”

Over his career, Snyder coached many talented athletes, including 12 All-State players and six All-Americans. However, he refuses to name anybody in particular.

“People always say, ‘Who’s your top 11 players?’ How can you even answer a question like that?” asked Snyder. “It’s like picking your favorite band. You can’t do it. I’ve had an abundance of great athletes and I thank them.”

Years ago, before girls’ sports, Guilderland High School came out with a “mythical” Hall of Fame. One hundred people were chosen by various coaches. “The vote was done and the thing came out,” Snyder said. “Sixty-seven of those players were my guys. That’s how many outstanding players I had.”

Coaches have assistants and Snyder wants to make sure that they get credit where credit is due, without naming one. “My assistants were such an important part to the equation,” he said. “You don’t coach by yourself. Coaches below me taught the kids how to play.”

“He made other people around him feel important,” said Gillis. “When the team won the state championship, we were all part of it. He had a way of including everyone in everything.”

Looking back

Snyder saw the game change over the decades. Soccer became more technical, but he tried to maintain his style of coaching. He was a teacher of the game.

“I just tried to get the maximum out of the atmosphere. Every season dealt a new hand,” said Snyder. “I’m sure I changed my approach to the game, not how I treated the kids.”

Snyder said that he is an easy person to get along with, but he was “hard to please” as a soccer coach. He kept the team competitive. “My practices were always serious, lots of running. Many of my players thought practice was harder than an actual game,” he said.

When asked about the highest and lowest points of his career, again the coach has many circumstances.

“When you coach as long as I did, it’s hard to nail down one memory,” said Snyder. “I’d say the 1989 state title and beating a nationally-ranked Shenendehowa team as highs.”

Snyder says the lowest points were when he had to let players go for breaking team rules. “It didn’t happen often, but I hated doing it,” he said. “Having to kick a player off the team was devastating. It doesn’t get any lower than that.”

Snyder was a coach who never demeaned his players, but he did do his share of yelling. He just hopes that no one thought of him as a mean guy.

“Every coach yells. It’s a way to get the point across quickly,” said Snyder. “I shouted at referees, but never got a red card. I got no more than five yellow cards over 38 years. Pretty good, huh?”

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