This spring, the Ocosta girls fastpitch team made a stunning rise to the state 2B championship, their first state showing in team history. Their achievement was a result of the girls’ dedication and hard work, Coach Jason Barnum’s knowledge and drive, the deep line-up of talented volunteer assistant coaches and incredible community support. But ask any fan who knows, “Who set the foundation for this feat?” and fingers will point to Erin Snider.
Snider, a Westport native, was a star athlete for Ocosta in the early 90s. She was a four year varsity player for both basketball and volleyball. She travelled to the state tournament with the volleyball team, a highlight of her youth. She ran track three of those years and her senior year decided to switch things up and join the softball team, losing every game but having a lot of fun.
When she wasn’t playing sports she was working in one of her father’s many businesses at the Westport docks. The family owned two restaurants, a charter office, a charter boat and a cannery and Snider worked them all. It was there, working at a fish and chips place at the docks, that she met her husband Jim. He was a volunteer EMT at the time and had responded to an emergency call just outside her window. “If that lady did not break her ankle that day my life would be completely different today,” Erin explained with a chuckle. They married a year later and moved north.
The Sniders thought big city life would be more fulfilling. They bought a house, started a family and both had great jobs, but it still felt lonely. “I thought I’d move up there and know the names of all the workers at the corner drug store within the month,” Snider recalled. That just didn’t happen. One day, she happened across some sign-ups for girls little league softball and decided that would be her way to meet people. She signed her daughters up for the team and volunteered to help with coaching.
Erin made some great friends through that experience and she and her daughters fell in love with softball. When they finally did make their escape back to Westport they wanted to continue to play. However, there wasn’t a girl’s little league team locally. So, Erin pulled together a few friends and got to work creating her own: South Beach Softball.
“This is home. My friends here are like family. I’m glad my girls get to grow up here so they can experience that,” said Snider. “Best decision we ever made was to move back here and I wanted my girls to have the same experiences I had. People know your name here, they’ll do anything for you and you’ll do anything for them. It’s just such a great feeling.”
That first spring of 2009, with her daughters in second and fourth grades, she was able to rally enough support to field three teams. She solicited business donations from Twin Harbor Drugs and the Arndt family. She got the City of Westport and Grayland Community Hall both to donate the use of their fields. She asked community members to fund scholarships for girls who couldn’t afford the sign up fees. She ran registration, found insurance, attended trainings and meetings, printed up sweatshirts and took pictures.
Snider was quick to point out, however, that the success of South Beach Softball is a team effort. “Eric Hopfer was very instrumental in getting it started. Eric, Andy Mitby, Kevin Hatton and my husband – they got the fields ready, they coached and they did things I couldn’t do.”
Stacie Barnum from Aberdeen Parks and Recreation also pitched in. She got the new group inducted into the Coastal Fastpitch League and guided them through the process of getting their teams on the schedule. Snider emphasized that Eric Hopfer was really the key, though. “He really helped develop the program and without his help I don’t know if I would have been able to make it happen.”
The program has grown tremendously in the past eight years. South Beach Softball now boasts six full teams. Twenty of the players are on scholarship. Each player receives a sweatshirt, photos and has access to club equipment. The club regularly purchases new safety gear for players as well. The cost to the player is just $35. Erin said, “You look good, you play good and safety is [important]. We’ve got great community support.”
Last year the club paid for a new outfield fence at the Grayland field. Three years ago they built a concession structure at the Westport field. Snider has personally gone out and sought donations from individuals and businesses to help keep the club going. “Insurance alone is a huge expense,” she said. And it gets done because of generous community support. And Snider, in addition to drumming up this support, also spends long hours completing the registration, printing the sweatshirts and taking the pictures, in addition to attending every game she possibly can.
“It occupies a lot of my time but it makes me happy,” she shared. “Jim realizes this and supports me one hundred percent.” He often attends games and events with her and is right there coaching and helping and rooting on the girls, even if they’re not their own daughters.“They’re all my kids” she said.
But she also says it’s time to get some help. “Both my girls have aged out and Erika is going into her senior year. I want to be able to focus on her a little more this next year and am looking for someone to assist.” Meetings with Parks and Recreation, registrations and book work can be time consuming taking up to 10 hours a week during the season. But, what is most important is the program stays strong.
Snider is in it for the long run.
In the future the club is looking to build up the Westport girl’s softball field to make it more serviceable for the heavy use it is getting. They want a new backstop, dugout and scoreboard. The current scoreboard is run by a generator and doesn’t always work correctly. They want to bring power and water into the concession stand and are working to get new lights and level the field.
The ultimate goal though is the girls. The girls have fun, they learn skills and they learn how to communicate and work as a team. “I feel that athletics can help kids stay out of bad situations” said Snider. “If they are involved in sports, they have to keep grades up and don’t have time to get into a lot of other trouble.”
Coach Barnum, is excited for the future of fastpitch at Ocosta High School. “I’m really excited about the next five years because I’ll have girls who are graduates of the program.” This is the first year he’s had players that went all the way through the club to the high school team. “The more they can play, the better they’re going to be.” Then he added, “Having the Sniders [and South Beach Softball] is a big help in my program because they do the same drills. This gives the girls confidence and makes them more comfortable when they get to high school ball.”
Barnum too has a slew of community support, incredible assistant coaches and demands hard work and long hours from his team. This dedication has opened some doors for the girls in Westport. At least two girls from the high school team are looking at some serious opportunities for scholarships – a big accomplishment for a junior and sophomore.
“Moving back to Westport and starting a softball league changed my whole life.” Snider said. After starting the league she opened a restaurant, The Blue Buoy, with her dad and sister. She coaches both basketball and volleyball at Ocosta Junior/Senior High as well.
“Getting to coach those girls made me want to be better. I tell them to be the very best, try their best and to work hard. I heard myself saying these things and realized I wasn’t doing them. Coaching makes me want to be better. Even if I’m tired I get up and go so I can motivate the girls with a clear conscience.”