Out of Control

by Gary Pine

Already a foster parent of two teenagers, a partner in youth ministry, and a full-time college head coach, is there anything else 25-year-old Julie Snodgrass can fit on her “table of life”?

Evidently so, because Snodgrass doesn’t need control or life to be in perfect order to be content. That’s why she quickly offers an insightful response when others her age would need time to ponder. “I’m just a vessel for God,” she said, “ready to do what He wants.” This faith-filled posture guides her clearly forward. “I coach because I love seeing development, witnessing the growth and maturity of my athletes. Plus, I relish drawing out the best in people.” That’s why she gladly welcomes dozens of teenagers into her house every week as part of her outreach with her husband, Jeff ’06, the student ministries lead pastor at Christ Church of the Valley in San Dimas. It also explains why she and Jeff became foster parents last January to teenage siblings in need of stability, direction, and love.

This isn’t a daredevil looking for extreme challenges or trying to buck the odds; she simply follows God. And that obedience led her to APU.

Snodgrass just completed her first year as the Azusa Pacific women’s water polo head coach. Considered young to be guiding a fledgling program, the announcement of her selection raised eyebrows among college coaching peers throughout Southern California. However, they didn’t know about her family gene pool. And they didn’t know about her passion.

“Coach genuinely cares about us, and is committed to making this program great,” said Courtney Folsom ’15. “It was inspirational to me to see Coach Snodgrass’ love for God shine through at all times.”

“I love coaching at Azusa Pacific,” said Snodgrass. “You can be honest and impart real truth—God’s Truth.” She immediately captured the respect of her players. They’re quick to listen to her instruction, eager to please her, and ready to go battle for her. They won just 9 of 36 games last spring, but the players she inherited believe in her, and in turn she is pointing the program in the proper direction.

“The most fulfilling moments this past season have been watching my girls develop leadership skills, clearly on display when they interact with one another and create a culture of support,” said Snodgrass. “Also, our one-on-one meetings have been rewarding because the girls open up and share difficulties, and they ask for my opinion because they trust me.”

Her impressive athletic credentials add to that trust fund. Snodgrass played at California Baptist University, where she was a four-year standout and one of the Lancers’ all-time leading scorers. She played in a way that belied her stature and tenaciously stood out in the water, out muscling her foes with a never-say-quit attitude, a much-needed trait for a program that was going against the likes of Harvard, Arizona State, Michigan, Maryland, Michigan State, and others. As a player, her drive and maturity helped push Cal Baptist water polo into a sphere of respect among the giants of the game. Now as a coach, she calls on those same characteristics to transform Cougar water polo and encourage the women who compete for Azusa Pacific to overcome life’s obstacles—something she learned from personal experience.

On a summer morning in 2002, John Hale, one of Southern California’s most renowned high school water polo coaches, drove his Volkswagen camper bus up Kellogg Hill on the 10 freeway in Pomona on his way to a club water polo match. The driver of a disabled truck in the far left lane attempted to get to the right shoulder and cut Hale off, forcing him to slam driver’s-side-first into the back end of the truck. The skidding camper bus vaulted up the hill and landed on its side.

“I’m pretty sure dad died on impact,” said Snodgrass of the day that altered her life. A strong relationship with God, a tight family bond, and overwhelming compassion from her church guided her, mom Peggy, and four siblings through the darkest hours of their lives. Today, she carries on the Hale legacy in both coaching and ministry.

“To be honest, dad’s influence factored strongly into my decision to coach at Azusa Pacific,” said Snodgrass. “I don’t know if it was a subconscious thing to honor him, but after he died, I knew I was going into coaching. I’m very similar to my dad and have the ability to help people realize their potential. When I approach people and problems, I think of things he would have done.”

Knowing firsthand that life can flip upside down in the blink of an eye, Snodgrass doesn’t worry about keeping control. Whether in the water, at home, or at church, she simply focuses on building relationships with people, encouraging, empowering, and enabling them to develop into the best versions of themselves. She recognizes this passion and clarity of purpose as gifts from her father—just as she recognizes the ability to juggle responsibilities and meet life’s challenges as she follows in her dad’s footsteps as gifts from her merciful Heavenly Father.

Gary Pine ’84, MBA ’03, is athletic director at Azusa Pacific University. gpine@apu.edu

Originally published in the Fall '12 issue of APU Life. View all issues.