Portage boys basketball coach Rick Snodgrass has had plenty of success on the court. He has earned a reputation of turning programs around, dedicated 29 years to coaching high school basketball, captured three sectional championships and won 298 games. However, it takes more than just a glance at his coaching statistics to comprehend what sets Snodgrass apart.
Snodgrass’s infectious smile, eternal optimism and love for kids have helped him earn a reputation as one of the kindest people anyone will ever come in contact with.
For Snodgrass, the dream of coaching basketball started during his elementary days as a youngster in the small town of Oxford, Ind. He lived directly across the street from the high school. His role model was Dick Atha, who wore many hats as the school’s Athletic Director while coaching baseball, basketball, golf and track and field.
“Dick was kind of like my second father,” Snodgrass said. “He took me under his wing when I was younger. I couldn’t wait to get to the gym on a Friday night. I’d smell the popcorn from across the street. I watched him coach all those years. That’s all I ever wanted to be.”
In high school, Snodgrass was a three sport athlete, playing football, baseball and basketball at Benton Central High School. He still owns the record of longest receiving touchdown in school history, a 90-yard reception. On the basketball floor, Benton Central went 17-3 during the regular season when Snodgrass was a senior, but was upended in the second round of the sectional.
“We knew that we were good enough to be there, but it just wasn’t meant to be at that time,” he said. “That also kind of spurred my desire to coach basketball even more, because I knew the challenge every year was going to be different.”
Snodgrass’s fondest baseball memory took place when he launched a home run in a Regional game at Block Stadium in East Chicago and a game winning home run to beat Griffith in the Regional Final that evening to lift Benton Central to its first regional championship in any sport.
Snodgrass went on to play college baseball at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he played with future Major League Baseball players Charlie Leibrandt and Billy Doran. Leibrandt pitched for four different teams during a 15 year career including the 1985 World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Doran was a big league second baseman from 1982-1993.
Snodgrass broke into the basketball coaching ranks at a young age when he landed the head varsity job at Hamilton Southeastern in Fishers, Ind. as a 27-year-old with three years as the junior varsity coach under his belt. Southeastern had suffered 11 straight losing seasons.
“It was a tremendous challenge for a young kid,” Snodgrass said. “I was blessed that I was at the right place at the right time. They allowed me to put together a program.”
Snodgrass did just that, coaching the team to a winning season in his third year and a sectional championship appearance in his fifth and final season at Hamilton Southeastern. After reaching the sectional final for the first time in 20 years, the school fell to Noblesville in a game that pitted Snodgrass against his mentor and high school coach Dave Nicholson.
After turning Hamilton Southeastern around, Snodgrass worked his magic at Twin Lakes, where he won sectional championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993. The 1992 Regional, which took place in front of a packed house of over 8,000, stands out in Snodgrass’s mind as his favorite coaching memory.
“We faced a team called Fountain Central,” he said. “They were 23-0; they had won four sectionals in a row. We upset them in the afternoon game on a last second free throw. That night, we played Rensselaer Central, who had upset Lafayette Jeff that afternoon. We lost a heartbreaker on a last second shot with no time on the clock.”
Snodgrass spent seven years at Twin Lakes, three years at Danville Community High School and eight years at North Harrison High School before taking his current post at PHS. The 2012-2013 Indians won 10 games, a nine game improvement from a one win season that marked the second biggest turnaround in the state. Portage was without a senior this season, meaning the entire roster will be back for 2013-2014.
Throughout his coaching tenure, Snodgrass has always had appreciation of other sports. He spent five years as the head boys tennis coach at Hamilton Southeastern, 11 years as the assistant baseball coach at Hamilton and one season as the head girls soccer coach for North Harrison High School.
“I learned to appreciate the quote, unquote minor sports,” Snodgrass said. “I don’t consider anything a minor sport. After coaching tennis, that reconfirmed my belief that every single sport is a great sport, it should never be about revenue.”
At nearly every home game he has ever coached, Snodgrass has distributed his Courtside Notes, a handout that provides attendees with information about the opposing team, his team, the youth program, the middle school teams, other sports at the school and recognizes any positive happenings in the community.
“I was at a school and a coach had put out some notes, it wasn’t Courtside Notes, but it was just a nice little flyer,” he said. “I had no idea if that school did it every night, but I told my wife Teresa that that would be something unique to do every game. I started it my first year as a head coach and I’ve done it nearly every single game I’ve ever coached.
By day, Snodgrass is in the classroom teaching health, something that he also thoroughly enjoys.
“I’ve always enjoyed being in the classroom,” he said. “I love teaching health. I get to interact with so many different kids. Teaching and coaching keeps you young. I feel like my life has been blessed because I’ve been with young kids.”
Although the players, students, administrators, schools and fellow coaches come and go, there has been one constant through Snodgrass’s life and career.
“I’ve been married for 32 years to my wife Teresa,” he said. “She’s been the one that has pushed me to be the best that I can be every day, and I’m thankful for that.”