Summer profile: Eric Snyder
If he wasn't spending his summer at the Catasauqua Park & Playground, Eric Snyder admittedly really would not know what to do. It has been a staple in his life since his days as a youth.
For the past 28 years, Snyder has been a fixture at the playground helping and eventually directing the summer children's activity program. A guidance counselor and head boys basketball coach at Catasauqua High School, Snyder began helping out at the summer playground program as an assistant to former director Ron Hassler in 1985.
"He asked me if I wanted to help him out and I said sure," Snyder said of Hassler. "I needed a summer job, being fresh out of college. I took it, and I have been here ever since." He was an assistant to Hassler for two years.
"If I wasn't here, I would really feel lost," he told The Press during a recent interview. "I have watched it (program) grow. There have been many memories formed here as well as friendships."
Snyder remembered how the program "blossomed" in 1985 and evolved into a program that includes a variety of daily activities for children in the 9:30-11:30 a.m. time slot every weekday. He noted how current head football coach Tom Falzone was a returning participant and gained the nickname, "The Stork" for his long, loping strides, running down to a makeshift first base at the playground in their version of a baseball game.
"We used to use a Nerf ball for a baseball," said Snyder about the baseball game he supervises. "The kids would slide down the hill and run toward a garbage can. If you hit the ball into the tennis courts, it was a home run. It's amazing that in all of those years we never hit any of the poles and no one ever seriously got hurt."
Through the years, Snyder has noticed a natural downturn in the number of participants after July 4, mainly due to vacations and other commitments.
"We start the year with about 45 kids and after July 4 we're down to about 25 due to vacations, other camps and other commitments," Snyder said. "It happens, but we still keep a good crowd."
Over the years, Snyder has been assisted by Dave Troxell, who recently came back to take over the girls basketball program. Troxell has been involved with the summer activity since he graduated from the high school in 1993. He has been running the "Nerf ball/baseball" program every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"I have been with Eric for 20 years and have enjoyed every year of it," Troxell told The Press recently. "He really enjoys working with the kids and they love him. This program has been a great outlet for the kids."
Snyder has also been appreciative of his cohort. With the addition of Troxell, he was able to begin a pick-up basketball program that has developed into a viable option.
"When Trox (Troxell) got the girls job (in 1998), I asked the borough officials if they could hire him," said Snyder. "Around 2000, we were able to donate three days to baseball and two days to basketball.
"In the afternoon, we have pickup basketball with around 30 to 35 people every day," said Snyder. "When we started to see it become less competitive, we would give the winning team sodas.
"Compared to what it was and where it is now, there is a difference."
Snyder also noted how his role has expanded from a "caretaker" to a "director." He also recalled how his father, Frank, ran the program in the 1960s and 1970s and how he was a participant as a 9-year-old.
It has also been a family affair for the venerable coach. Sons Andrew and James have been involved with the program. His, wife Tina, directs the North Catasauqua park craft program and his mother, Janice, has been a fixture with the summer tennis program through the years.
Snyder admits his days are longer during the summer than during the school year, as he normally is at his desk in school from 7:30 to 9:30 before he begins his stint at the park, which can last into the evening hours on days when the Catty Summer Basketball League is there.
"This is a good summer job and I really couldn't take the two months off," said Snyder. "But this has been an institution to many people.
"This has been with me for a long time and I really don't know what else I would do. I kind of live here and I don't know if that's good or bad. It has been fun."
For the children and adults who have been in the program under Snyder's direction, being around him has been fun, too.