A plaque in Johanna Snedeker's office at Montgomery High School reads: "The teacher has not taught till the learner has learned." Photo by Lea Florentine.
For 71 seasons, Johanna Snedeker has coached one of five sports in Montgomery schools, ranging from cheerleading to tennis. She has taught health and physical education for nearly 30 years, and has contributed to the community for 35 years as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and captain at Rocky Hill First Aid and Rescue Squad, and, more recently, at Montgomery Emergency Medical Services.
While Snedeker is retiring from the coaching component of her job, she will continue to teach at the high school.
Snedeker grew up in Rocky Hill and graduated from Montgomery High School (MHS) in 1978, where she got her first taste of coaching on the soccer team.
“In my senior year, we had a change in coaches to one who didn’t play soccer,” she says. “As co-captain, I found myself making decisions for the team. That year I earned the distinction of most valuable player not only for my skills on the field but the work I did coaching the younger players.”
That same year Snedeker became a certified lifeguard and water safety instructor. She used these skills in her summers off from college working at Rambling Pines Day Camp.
“It was a great experience and taught me about teaching different skill levels and abilities,” she says. “I began to understand every child is different and has something to offer.”
After graduating from Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey), Snedeker began applying for positions as a physical education and health teacher.
“I always wanted to coach,” she says, “and when it became apparent that coaching experience was necessary, I went to the athletic director of Montgomery and asked if there were any coaching positions open. In the fall of 1992, I was offered the position of the middle school girls’ b-team soccer coach and the fun began.”
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Snedeker vividly recalls that season. “My first win as a coach is forever etched in my memory. The girls had never experienced the thrill of victory. We had many losses in the early season, but the girls were improving. Finally, we had the first win. The bus ride home was electric.”
The following spring, she was offered a coaching position with the middle school’s girls’ gymnastics team. She had to reinvent herself.
“Having no background in gymnastics, I was apprehensive,” she says, “but knew I had a good background in movement and understood kinesiology, so I accepted the challenge.
“In the fall of 1993, I was asked to add middle school cheerleading to my list of coaching positions. I was now a three-season coach, ready to begin my career as a teacher.”
Later in her career at MHS, Snedeker was instrumental in bringing the sport of fencing to the school. Former MHS parent Steve Caputo, who had fenced at Princeton University, asked her to serve as a faculty advisor to his children at the NJ State Individual Tournament (NJSIT). When the Montgomery Township Board of Education approved a fencing team at MHS, she became their coach. Ten years later, they won the 2016 state championship.
The MHS Girls Fencing Team’s Epee Squad won first place at the NJ State Squad Championship at North Hunterdon High School on February 23. Pictured from left are Coach Johanna Snedeker, varsity fencers Emma Ni, Meghana Paturu, and Julia Yoon, and Epee Captain Sarah Florentine. In the center, Assistant Coach Steve Caputo holds their award. Photo by Lea Florentine.
The fencing team reflects Snedeker’s values. The senior members mentor their younger teammates and provide most of the leadership for the team’s three squads. Although fencing is an individual sport, MHS fencers are taught to support their teammates by literally standing by them.
When the girls’ team lost the deciding bout during the second round of the state tournament this year, some team members sat down until Snedeker reminded them, “Stand up, we’re not done fencing.”
In 2013, a senior on the fencing team’s sabre squad had recurrent medical issues that left her too weak to fence. But she came to practices, often sitting on the floor, to support the team. Snedeker recognized her at the end of the season with a “Strength in Spirit” award, which noted, “Strength reveals itself to us in many ways.”
Snedeker has earned numerous coaching awards over the years. The Star Ledger named her Coach of the Year in 2007 for gymnastics and in 2010 and 2013 for fencing. She received the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association Sports Award for gymnastics in 2009 and for fencing in 2011. In 2012 she was inducted into the NJ Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame for both of these sports. But these accolades are not foremost among Snedeker’s coaching memories.
“Mostly I have valued being part of the lives of the many amazing young athletes with whom I have crossed paths,” she says. “I have so many snapshots of interactions, laughter, successes, and learning experiences in my head. Most memorable is watching young athletes gain confidence; grow to understand their strengths and weaknesses; and learn what they can control and what they need to accept.”
After a 10-hour workday, Snedeker has served with emergency medical services in Rocky Hill and, in recent years, in Montgomery. She brings her field knowledge to health classes at MHS by teaching first aid and CPR.
Snedeker credited her husband Don and her assistant coaches for her success — specifically Danielle Mitko for gymnastics; Steve Caputo for fencing; and former MHS Athletic Director Tony Maselli.
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Snedeker also thanks MHS alumni Ashley (Williams) Castronovo (currently the MHS Girls Gymnastics coach), Kelly Simon, and her daughter Elizabeth who all came back to volunteer for several seasons. (She adds she is looking forward to Elizabeth’s wedding to TJ Ferrell in May.)
“I always knew coaching was going to be a big part of my career,” she says. “A comment made early in my career by Bernie Demsky, then athletic director, sticks with me. As he passed me during a middle school gymnastics practice, he said: ‘You love this, don’t you?’ “I remember thinking, ‘I do; this is my dream come true.’” ■