Valley High School’s magical, out-of-left-field – and legitimately historic – run to a boys state basketball championship in 1996 is the stuff of New Mexico legend.
The head coach of that team recently passed away.
Jerald Snider, 76, died at his Northeast Heights home on Dec. 20.
“He was a special man, he really was,” said Rio Rancho High girls head coach Scott Peterson, who was an assistant under Snider at Valley in that 1995-96 season. “He was from Indiana, he loved the game of basketball, and he was passionate about it.”
Snider’s wife, Kathy Sandoval, is founder and director of the AIMS@UNM charter school. She said she believed Snider passed away from complications related to his diabetes.
“I was actually in shock (when I found out),” said Adam Jones, who played guard for Valley in 1996.
“I had seen him two months earlier (for lunch), and was looking forward to another lunch.”
Snider’s health had been in decline. Sandoval said he was also being treated for Parkinson’s disease. In recent months, Snider had been in a great deal of pain, she said.
“The last time we had that little lunch, he had talked about getting all the players (from the 1996 team) together,” said Jones.
Snider was no longer coaching at the time of his death, but before joining Valley in the early 1990s, he had coached at West Mesa and Eldorado. Later, he coached, albeit temporarily, at Jemez Valley.
His greatest coaching achievement, however, came at Valley, where Snider led the Vikings to one of the most unlikely state titles in the modern prep basketball era in New Mexico. The Vikings’ march that week was remarkable in many ways, starting with Valley winning four games in four days against the teams ranked 4, 3, 2 and 1 in the large-school division, then Class 4A.
That year’s state tournament was held in Las Cruces. The Vikings beat Las Cruces High on the Bulldawgs’ home floor in what was called a pre-playoff game on a Wednesday night, then knocked off 4A’s top three schools – Hobbs, Albuquerque High and Alamogordo – in succession in the final three days of the tournament at the Pan American Center. Adding to the surreal nature of it, those three teams were led at the time by Hall of Fame coaches Ralph Tasker, Jim Hulsman and Ron Geyer, respectively.
On top of all that, Valley began the week with the worst record (14-11) of any of the 10 teams that qualified for the tournament.
“During that season,” Jones said, “he had a saying about a brass ring, and that everyone had to reach the brass ring to make it to the next level.”
Snider, a driven yet jovial and playful man, coached Valley from 1990-91 through the 1996-97 season. He later segued into administrative jobs, including being principal at Jemez Valley and helping to get Rio Rancho High School open, Peterson said.
“I wouldn’t be coaching if it weren’t for coach Snider,” said Peterson, who played for Snider at Valley, graduated from Valley in 1992 and started coaching with him in the North Valley as a 19-year-old in 1994. It was Snider who also asked Peterson to come up and coach at Jemez Valley some years later.
“I am forever grateful for the opportunities coach Snider gave me,” he said.
Sandoval said there eventually will be a celebration of life for Snider, and also, as per his wishes, a golf tournament in his memory at Tanoan Country Club.
His love of sports, Sandoval said with a laugh, was a topic on which they didn’t share the same level of affection.
“Poor man got saddled with a wife who had no idea what basketball was,” she said. “He had to teach me about Indiana basketball and iron hoops. And we had to watch that awful movie (“Hoosiers”) once a year.”
It’s a movie that certainly mirrors Valley’s 1996 postseason. Peterson relayed a story that the bus driver that drove the Vikings to Las Cruces that week was only given one day’s per diem because the Vikings weren’t expected to last more than one day. That driver, Peterson added, ended being given per diem money by other bus drivers who went back to Albuquerque earlier than Valley did.
“It was a Cinderella season,” Jones said.