Snyder remembered as legendary coach, better man


By Trey Williams

Iconic high school basketball coach Bobby Snyder’s love for the sport took root with a walnut tree beside his childhood home in Boones Creek, and he was nuts about basketball the remainder of his 86 years on earth.

The salt-of-the-earth Snyder, an unmistakably decent man, died on May 31 at 86 years of age. He pitched man-to-man defense and accountability while piling up 836 victories at Daniel Boone and Boones Creek and surely helped save some souls.

The Bars won a record 66 consecutive Washington County League games with him at the helm in the 1960s – in the era of Charles “Toonie” Cash. Snyder’s Trailblazers, led by Steve Cox and Mark Larkey, won the 1984 Arby’s Classic title and advanced to the state tournament during the 1998-99 season with Thomas Gouge and Justin Humphries leading the way.

During an interview in January of last year, Snyder chuckled warmly while recalling the walnut tree, if not the big black snake in his father’s barn.

“My dad had a corn crib in there and there was the biggest black snake you’ve even seen in your life,” Snyder said. “One of the guys wanted to kill it and he said, ‘You’re not killing that snake. It catches all the mice that’s coming in to eat on the corn.’ So we left the big black snake alone. … But we kept playing basketball.”

Monroe Ellis was a slithery 6-foot-5 frontcourt player that hit the game-winning shot in Boones Creek’s 1958 state tournament win against Oak Ridge. Snyder, an assistant under James Gosnell on that team, had a long history with Ellis dating back to the walnut tree.

“It didn’t matter how cold it was or if it snowed, Bobby’d rake the snow off,” Ellis said. “He had piles of sand and sawdust. That’s where we played. I could see up there from my house. I was up there about as much as Bobby, I guess. It was fun. We played basketball all the time.”

Snyder, a devout Christian without being preachy, tremendously influenced countless young men by walking the walk.

Maryville College football coach Ben Fox was best known as a quarterback and valedictorian at Daniel Boone (class of 2005), but invariably mentions Snyder quickly when asked about high school influences.

Keilan Livingston with Bobby Snyder last November. Photo by Trey Williams

“It is hard to put into words what playing for Coach Snyder meant to me,” Fox said. “He was a great competitor and loved his players. He was the embodiment of what a coach is supposed to be. He always had us prepared for games and that gave us confidence. A lot of the principles I learned playing for him – toughness, sacrifice, commitment and preparation – are things that I talk about daily with the football players we have at Maryville College.

“But more than that, his faith in Christ was evident. He cared about us away from basketball.”

Snyder’s most gratifying feats on the court were the 1984 Arby’s Classic title, advancing to the state tournament in ’99 and the 66-game wins streak.

The Arby’s Classic was in its second year, and not quite the caliber that it’s been in many years since. But the Trailblazers won in the championship game 67-56 against defending champion Pulaski County, which had high-leaping future St. John’s player Mike Porter.

“I believe winning the Arby’s is harder than winning a state tournament,” Snyder said last year.

Daniel Boone athletic director Danny Good played for Snyder on the Arby’s championship team.

“Coach Snyder tried to instill the priorities that he lived by into his players and those around him,” Good said. “Those were and are the same priorities every parent wants their kids to have. His preparation for his next opponent was in such detail, you knew what the guy you were matched up with had for lunch.”

Knox Catholic girls basketball coach Travis Mains won a 3-point shootout at the Arby’s Classic while playing for Snyder. Mains, led by his daughter Sydney, a Florida Atlantic commit, coached Catholic to a state title in March.

“Coach Snyder impacted my life from a very young age,” Mains said, “and to be honest set in place for me the urge to be a basketball coach. He was a great man and loved and cared about all his players, not just the best ones.

“Not many Bobby Snyder’s left in the basketball world. Stayed in one community and helped change it for the better every year he taught and coached.”

David Crockett girls basketball coach Thomas Gouge was the leading scorer on Snyder’s state tournament team in ’99.

Boone lost in the quarterfinals to Marshall County, which had future Tennessee Volunteer/NBA player Marcus Haislip, a high-jumping 6-foot-9 shot-blocker.

Former Daniel Boone coach Bobby Snyder with former Boone basketball standout Eric “Doc” Rigsby. Photo by Trey Williams

“Coach Snyder had us shooting over people holding broomsticks to prepare,” Gouge said. “I remember his competitive fire and he was just always so well prepared. … Going into games we knew that he was gonna give us the recipe to win if we could just go execute it.”

Sure enough, Boone led favored Marshall County 34-28 midway through the third quarter. But Haislip (25 points, seven blocks) took over.

“I was disappointed we didn’t (get a state tournament win),” Snyder said. “We got beat but we played our tail-ends off.”

Gouge scored a team-high 21 points for Boone.

“Coach Snyder was not only a great coach, he was a great man and role model,” Gouge said. “It was such a blessing to play for him. He taught me so much about basketball, but even more about life. …

“His love for the game and for his players was contagious and he was a big reason why I got into coaching. I will never forget all the memories we made together and all the support he showed me throughout my life. His legacy will live on through all the lives he impacted in his career.”

Keilan Livingston was a star guard on some good Daniel Boone teams in the early ‘90s. His son, Jamar, led the state in scoring and was the best player in the Big Five Conference this past season at Boone.

Keilan scored 41 points, including two game-winning free throws with five seconds remaining in overtime, when Boone beat Odell Hodge-led Laurel Park (Va.) in the opening round of the 1991 Arby’s Classic.

“On paper we didn’t have a chance,” Livingston said. “Coach Snyder pulled me to the side in locker room and told me, ‘Don’t feel defeated by this team before you play.’ He told me, ‘Keilan, go show them you can play.’ His motivational talk and belief in me had me so hyped I went out and dropped (41) in Arby’s in the win.”

Snyder, battling dementia, had lived in Monroe, North Carolina in recent years.

“I had the opportunity on November 20th to see him,” Livingston said. “It was great talking to him for a very short time, but even with his dementia he remembered me with a blink and told me I was one of his favorite players with a tear in his eyes. This meant a lot to me. I will be forever grateful to have Coach Bobby Snyder, the legend, as my coach. … He was a legend not only on the court, but in the community.”

Snyder’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at Oak Grove Baptist Church. Visitation from friends will be held from noon-2 p.m. The funeral will follow immediately thereafter.


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