By Lisa Byers
January 16, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
When the 2013 high school softball season begins, it is highly likely Jerry VanZandt and longtime friend Mike Schrecengost will be somewhere around the softball field clad in green and white.
But for the first time in 19 years, it will not be together in the dugout or along the first and third base lines coaching the Union City Bears.
VanZandt, the area’s longest tenured softball coach, and Schrecengost resigned roughly a month ago. VanZandt amassed a record of 254 wins and just 97 losses throughout his career — a winning percentage of .724 — and guided the Bears to two District 10 titles, three region/conference titles and a state playoff victory.
But it wasn’t just wins and championships that made VanZandt and Schrecengost, who leaves after 25 years total with the program, a valuable asset at Union City. It was their unwavering commitment to the players and positive encouragement day in and day out, a feature that has made their resignation particularly hard to accept, Union City athletic director Dan Keefer said.
“One of the hardest things to deal with is that they were very good at relating to the girls,” he said. “The atmosphere they created and excitement on the field is not something you see everywhere.”
Frank Snyder, who served as VanZandt’s scorekeeper and assistant for the last 11 seasons, has been hired as the successor, Keefer confirmed on Tuesday. Keefer said continuity is important and that it was big to bring someone on board who the girls know and who is familiar with the program.
“He’ll make the program his,” VanZandt said. “But it won’t be as much of a transition for the ladies.”
VanZandt said his decision to resign didn’t come easily, but he was not prompted by anything “negative whatsoever.”
“I just felt like it was time to hang up the cleats,” he said, noting the desire to spend more time with his two daughters, Kelly, 23, and Samantha, 19, who he said had been nothing but supportive his entire career.
“I told them from the very beginning,” VanZandt said. “I said, ‘If this is taking too much of my time away from you, you tell me.’ They never said anything. Instead, they pushed me.”
VanZandt said he is looking forward to doing some traveling and visiting his youngest daughter, helping his oldest daughter with her new house and spending more time with his wife, Stephanie.
“I leave real proud with what we did with the program,” VanZandt said. “I mention the couple of district titles and region championships. ... Those things were great. But the thing we are most proud of is what we were able to instill in our athletes. They were proud to have played for Union City and to be a Union City Bear.
“I have players who are now 25, 27, 28 years old and they tell me that the softball program was their fondest high school memory. That means more to me than anything and it’s the same with Schrec.”
It was that pride of suiting up in green and white and playing for the Bears that helped them become such a successful program. That and the knowledge of the game that VanZandt and Schrecengost brought to the table, Keefer said.
“His games were always exciting,” Keefer said. “They were always competitive. You can’t ask for anything more out of a coach. It speaks volumes for him and coach Schrec.”
Of course, VanZandt takes little credit.
“It has a lot to do with the feeder program,” he said. “I have had a lot of good athletes come up. We may get four or five who come up and don’t work out immediately, but they get ready in one or two years. Instead of rebuilding, we reload.”
And they’ll do it again this year, now with a new head coach.