A former player and now a social studies teacher at Warsaw Community High School, John Snyder knows the rich history of the Tiger basketball program.
As a 6-foot-7 sophomore, Snyder started at center for Al Rhodes’ team that advanced to the 1981 final four.
Since graduating from Depauw University in Greencastle, Snyder has spent 17 years as an assistant boys coach, working 13 years in the Warsaw boys program with Rhodes and Doug Ogle and four years as the junior varsity boys coach at Columbia City.
All the knowledge he has of the boys basketball program, Snyder says his first taste of Tiger basketball was in 1976, the year he and his family moved from North Manchester to Warsaw.
Snyder was in sixth grade, and Jan Soyez’ girls team was on the verge of making history by winning the inaugural state championship.
Things have now come full circle for the 39-year-old Sndyer, who was unanimously voted Warsaw’s girls head coach Monday by the seven-seat school board.
“It means something to me,” Snyder said of the chance to coach at the school where he played. “I moved here in 1976 when I was in sixth grade. My first basketball experience here in Warsaw was the girls winning the first state championship. There’s tradition here, and the program is already in place.”
Snyder said he “had a few interviews in the spring,” and that he has “been seeking a head coaching position.”
Snyder said he had interviews at Heritage, Southport and Oak Hill for boys coaching positions.
“I hadn’t really looked at coaching girls,” said Snyder. “Nothing against them, I’ve just always coached boys. My wife was actually a big proponent of this when it became available and encouraged me in this direction. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. There are several advantages to having the job here. One, the girls program is already in place and there’s great tradition here. Secondly, I get to stay at a job I love.”
Snyder takes over the head coaching duties for Will Wienhorst, whose Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the preseason and finished the season ranked No. 2 with a 26-3 record and as the state runner-up.
Wienhorst resigned his teaching position in July, and his coaching contract was not renewed at the August school board meeting.
According to Snyder, assistant coaches Ray Davis, Scott Schramm and Michelle Harter will remain on staff. Harter will continue to coach the junior varsity team, while Mike Hepler will coach the freshman team. Nicole Wood, who worked with the middle school program last year, will serve as an assistant for the freshman team.
While Warsaw graduated four-year starter Michelle DeGeeter, two year-varsity player Holly Durcholz and three-year starter and Miss Basketball Jaclyn Leininger from last year’s state runner-up team, the cupboard is anything but bare for Snyder.
Returning starters from last year’s team include junior Julie Seiss and seniors Rebekah Reichard and Kara Mayer. Also expected to play a major role in the success of this year’s team are junior returners Tasia Smith, Kim Clay, Amy Abbitt and seniors Karen Sand and Rachel Braddock. Hepler’s junior varsity team went through last season with a 17-3 record.
“I’m really impressed with how hard these girls work,” said Snyder. “The numbers are good considering how many of them are in a fall sport. The girls have been working really hard.”
Asked what his coaching philosophy is, Snyder said he will put a team on the floor that plays solid defense and plays as a team.
He said his three key components for success are teamwork, hard work and enthusiasm.
“Every coach has his or her own philosophy,” said Snyder. “I’m not saying I’m a better coach than Will or that I have a better philosophy, but any time you get a new coach you’re gonna have a new philosophy. I’m a big Al Rhodes guy, he was a great mentor for me.”
Asked what Tiger fans should expect to see, Snyder said to expect a combination of a Rhodes-coached team and a Columbia City boys team coached by Chris Benedict.
He plans for his team to push the ball up the floor, but to work the ball around methodically and take high percentage shots.
Based on what Rhodes and Benedict have done, the combination doesn’t seem like a bad choice.
Rhodes won 405 games at Warsaw and took the Tiger boys to the final four five times, including the 1984 state championship. Benedict’s Columbia City team went 65-9 the past three years and was the state runner-up last year.
Warsaw’s girls team opens the season Nov. 13 by hosting Huntington North.