Kathy Snyder devoted her life to the students of Southern Regional High School.
The longtime girls basketball and field hockey coach died in her sleep Friday morning. She was 58.
“I always felt like I was married to a legend,” her husband, Ken Snyder, said Friday night. “She stood for all the good things, involving sports — discipline, teamwork. She was a one-school person, and that school was Southern Regional.”
During the school year, Snyder would leave her Manahawkin home at 6 a.m. and many times not return until 9 p.m. She and Ken, who coached football for years at Toms River East, were married for 27 years. The couple had three children.
“She was a great mother and a great wife,” Ken said. “She loved her job. She loved to teach and coach.”
Kathy Snyder described her coaching philosophy in a 2010 interview with The Press.
“I adore the kids I work with,” she said. “Our kids are born and bred in Manahawkin. We don’t bring them in from all over. It’s Manahawkin and Long Beach Island. We take what we have and make the best of it.”
The Rams are 7-2 this season. Southern was scheduled to play Toms River East on Friday. Nearly all Southern Regional sporting events Friday and today were postponed.
Snyder was in her 35th season as the basketball coach and had a 547-311 career record. Snyder led the Rams to the 1997 South Jersey Group IV and 1984 Shore Conference championships. Southern also advanced to the S.J. Group IV final in 2009 and 2010.
In field hockey, Snyder won 310 games and was The Press Coach of the Year in 2011.
“She is Southern Regional. She is that school,” said Cape May Tech girls basketball coach Ginny Roma, who graduated from Southern in 2000 and played field hockey and basketball for Snyder. “She held us to high expectations. She embodied every quality that Southern Regional wants to be related to.”
Snyder continued coaching both field hockey and basketball in 2006 while successfully battling breast cancer. She pestered her doctors to move up chemotherapy treatments. She went for radiation treatments during free periods in the school day. She didn’t miss a game.
“She was the most inspiring woman,” 2013 Southern graduate and field hockey standout Arielle Galgano said. “She was tough. With everything she went through, she showed up every day and still did her job. That was inspiring to see.”
Snyder was as intense and competitive as any coach. She didn’t mince words on the sidelines. Her players loved her for it.
“She prepared you for other coaches,” Galgano said. “When I went to club teams and had coaches who weren’t as intense, I’d say, ‘Wow, I’d rather have somebody yell at me than someone who wouldn’t tell me what I was doing wrong.’ I was happy when (Snyder) screamed at me because that meant she was helping me.”
Snyder made her players believe in themselves and overcome their doubts. Galgano now plays for Montclair State University.
“I wouldn’t be playing in college if it wasn’t for her,” Galgano said. “I didn’t believe I was good enough. She praised me all the time. She believed in me more than I believed in myself, and that’s the only reason I went to college to play.”
As intense as she was, Snyder was able to quickly move on once the game ended.
“She could leave the greatest game or the worst game and come home and be a wife or be a mother,” Ken Snyder said. “It takes a special person to be able to be that way.”
Snyder was more than the Rams’ field hockey and basketball coach. She was part of the fabric of the school. She taught physical education. Snyder also taught hundreds of students how to drive.
“She was there,” Roma said. “You could go to her if you were in trouble at school or if you had a rough thing going on at home or if you forget your lunch money.”
Snyder started at Southern in the 1970s, when Pat Sharkey was a student. Snyder wound up coaching his sisters and three of his daughters, including Kristen, the 2010 Press Player of the Year. Kristen is now a junior at the University of Buffalo, where she is a team captain.
“My kids loved her,” Pat Sharkey said. “She cared deeply about what was going on in their lives. She had tremendous energy. She never stopped. She was a tough, intense coach. My daughters learned about character from her, about life not being so easy.”
Kristen Sharkey’s team — like many teams Snyder coached before and since — held pasta parties at Snyder’s house the night before games. The coach would order food, and Kristen’s team often watched “The Dark Knight” movie.
Kristen said Snyder’s energy was contagious. The coach emphasized a team bonding together.
“My best friends to this day are my high school basketball teammates,” Kristen said. “She wouldn’t let us fail. Without Snyder, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Before beginning her coaching career, Snyder starred at field hockey, basketball and track and field for Shore Regional in West Long Branch (Monmouth County). She started teaching at Southern after graduating from Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township).
Southern athletic director Chuck Donohue Jr. could not be reached for comment Friday but he did tweet this tribute to Snyder: “RIP Coach Kathy Snyder. Thank you for all you have done for Southern Regional. You are irreplaceable.”
In the same 2010 Press article in which she spoke about her players, Snyder also talked about how long she wanted to keep coaching.
“I do think about that, whereas before I never did,” she said. ”I don’t know, but I’m going to make sure I really want to stop because once I do, I’m not going back.”
In preseason interviews for this basketball season, Snyder sounded as enthusiastic as ever about her young team. It is rare today for someone to coach as long as Snyder did.
Ken Snyder said Kathy recently said she might never retire because she loved what she was doing.
Ken joked Friday that after he retired as Toms River East football coach in the late 1990s, he became the de facto secretary for Kathy. Reporters only called their home looking for her. He took messages and called her to the phone.
“I wish,” he said, “I could hand her the phone right now.”
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