CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Jefferson baseball team has a new sheriff in town.
Two to be exact.
After Kyle Rodenkirk resigned to take the same job at Linn-Mar, Jefferson had a dilemma to solve. Luckily the solution(s) were not too far away.
In early December it was announced Terry Schneekloth, a former player and coach, would take over the coaching job along with Gordy Nordgren, who has been an assistant with the team for a few years. They would be co-head coaches.
Nordgren already held the head coaching position at Jefferson before as part of his 34 years of coaching experience.
“I was very excited after getting the job,” Schneekloth said. “Coach Nordgren and I go way back, he was actually an assistant coach for my college team my senior year. I knew he would already know most of the players we currently have, but as far as coaching goes we have very similar philosophies.”
When a coach first takes the reigns of a program, a lot of things can be different — for the new coach and the players. But the transition is easier when teams have very talented and genuine players to welcome the new coach.
And the J-Hawks have responded with a 6-1 start heading into Friday’s game against Linn-Mar.
“I look forward to the talent we have,” he said before the season. “And also working with the fine young men we have in our program. Hopefully I get to share a little bit of my expertise with them.”
Great players, especially the ones who have studied the game down to the core and have given their entire life to the game, usually make great coaches. Schneekloth’s playing career is well documented.
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“I played locally here in high school at LaSalle High School,” he said. “After high school I went to Mount Mercy College, and ended up being an All-American my senior year for the NAIA level. And I was academic All-American for my junior and senior year.”
Earning All-American honors at any level takes a special athlete. So does setting a national record.
“I actually broke a national record,” Schneekloth said. “As far I know it is still held, nobody has told me that I don’t hold it anymore. I stole 100 bases my senior year, however that was more of a team philosophy than anything else. As a team, we stole 309 bases in 52 games, so we stole about six bases a game, which is very aggressive.”
Although his college days are long gone, playing the sport of baseball is something he still does.
“After I got out of college I tried to hook on with some pro teams, but that never did quite pan out for me, so I started playing town team ball,” he said. “And now I currently play in a league called the Eastern Iowa Adult Baseball League. I enjoy playing, so it’s something I just can’t give up. Luckily it’s on Sundays so it won’t interfere with coaching.”
Along with his extensive background as a player, he also has a background as a coach.
“I was actually the very first eighth grade baseball coach here at Jefferson back in 1993,” Schneekloth said. “I did that for two years, then I decided to volunteer at the varsity level at Jefferson, and I did that for four years. Three of those four years we actually did go onto state. My last year here at Jeff was in 1998.”
Like most coaches, there comes a time when there is a desire to move on and potentially move up.
“After coaching at Jeff I was offered the head sophomore job at Prairie High School,” he said. “They also offered me a job as a teacher, which is one of my philosophies. I like to coach at a school that I actually teach at.”
His move up the coaching ladder continued at Prairie.
“After one year as the sophomore coach, the head varsity coaching job opened up,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be named head coach at Prairie High School before the 2000 season. I stayed the head coach at Prairie for six years. And my last year there, which was in 2005, was Prairie’s first trip to state in baseball.”
That trip to state actually has quite a coincidental feature looking back on it now.
“We knocked off Coach Nordgrens’ J-Hawks to go onto state,” Schneekloth said, recalling Prairie’s upset of the No. 1-ranked J-Hawks.
Even with the success he had that year, he had to decide on what he wanted to prioritize.
“I gave up coaching after that point,” Schneekloth said. “I actually left teaching as well as coaching and went to go work at AEGON for two-and-a-half years. It was about the time my daughter was getting into sports, and I felt I could commit more to the family if I was working outside of school.”
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Some jobs turn out to not be the fit that one had imagined. That was the case for Schneekloth, but luckily enough for him another job opened up.
“It turns out AEGON didn’t work out,” he said. “And two-and-a-half years later, in January 2009, I got an offer to come back and teach at Jefferson, but I stayed out of coaching until this point. Although I did referee high school football and basketball, as well as college football.”
Since Schneekloth was not in the program, he brings some things a returning coach could not bring.
“A cool thing about not being in the program is that I come into this season with a clean slate,” he said. “I have no preconceived notions on any player. I may even have some ideas and some suggestions about moving some kids around position-wise, that they hadn’t thought about before.”
Co-head coaching is not something a lot of programs do, but given the relationship between Schneekloth and Nordgren — and the coaching philosophies — the arrangement has work pretty well.
“One of the things we have to work on is how do we lay out a practice plan or write a lineup,” Schneekloth said. “These are things that we’re going to iron out with time, but we share similar philosophies about how baseball should be played so it should work out well.”
With three Division I commits, Schneekloth joins a program with some major talent, but also joins a team with pre-established leaders.
“We have two returning seniors who are both high Division I scholarship players in Connor (Van Scoyoc) and Brayden (Frazier),” he said. “We’re excited to have them this season.”
Since Iowa high schools play baseball in the summer, players who get drafted can leave their high school teams and go to camp for the team they sign with.
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“We’re crossing our fingers that we have Connor all season long,” Schneekloth said. “But we also understand that he may have some other commitments in other places, and if that happens it’ll be great for him and we’ll be very, very proud of him. But we’ll miss him if that does happen.”
With all the talent, though, high goals do seem to be achievable. The J-Hawks already have met one — winning the Bob Vrbicek Metro Tournament.
“The ultimate goal is a state title,” Schneekloth said. “But after I back off a little bit and it goes in reverse chronological order, so in order to win state, you have to get there. Also, winning a conference title would feather in our cap. I’ve also never been head coach of a team that has performed well in the Metro Tournament, so I’m looking forward to this spring because I have a feeling that could change this year.”
The J-Hawk baseball team has the pieces necessary to do so, but they also have two experienced men to help them achieve this goal.