ELLERBE — It was an innocent question between friends during a get-together which led to countless memories for Wilbur Snipes.
“Johnny Kendall asked me while we were playing cards or something if I would like to help him coach his Bronco League team,” Snipes recalled. “It just kept going from there.”
That inquiry started Snipes on a 36-year journey with youth baseball in Richmond County, which ended in 2007 because of health reasons.
All of his relatively thankless hours of work paid off last month when Snipes received a phone call which left him speechless. The former director of the City of Hamlet’s recreation department was told he was going to be inducted into the Babe Ruth Southeast Region Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“I couldn’t talk,” Snipes said. “I definitely never thought I’ll get something like that. I enjoyed working with the kids.”
Even though Snipes attempts to downplay the accolade and deflect the praise to others who helped him throughout the years, his resume states different.
He led several teams to the Babe Ruth state tournament and captured the 1987 16-year-old Southeast Regional tourney championship which was held in Hamlet. Snipes recalls leading his squad onto the field during the opening ceremonies and seeing the seemingly endless crowd at Memorial Park.
“Ain’t never seen anything like it,” he said.
One year later, Snipes was selected as the National Baseball Volunteer Coach of the Year.
“I remember coming home from a Richmond football game and there was a letter on my dresser,” Snipes said. “It said I was selected as the volunteer coach of the year.”
Snipes and his wife, Ella, flew to San Francisco to receive the award. To this day, Snipes remembers sharing the spotlight with several Major League players at the time, including Ben McDonald.
In addition to coaching during his 36-year tenure, Snipes worked at various levels of leadership with Babe Ruth Baseball, including district commissioner, assistant state commissioner and Eastern North Carolina State commissioner.
When he assumed the duties of district commissioner, Snipes said he was required to end his coaching career, but he had other ideas.
“I wasn’t suppose to coach, but I did anyway,” he said. “I could coach during the regular season but I couldn’t coach any of the all-star teams.”
As Snipes continued to climb the ladder with Babe Ruth, his responsibilities grew and his ability to coach dwindled. This meant Snipes was forced to hang up his lucky pants, which Ella washed before every game.
“I was superstitious,” Snipes said. “I had to wear the same clothes.”
“He also wore these shoes which turned up at the toes,” Ella interjected. “People said he looked like a leprechaun.”
Snipes says Ella was by his side or cheering his team on from the stands. Snipes added his family’s backing gave him the opportunity to chase to his love of coaching baseball.
“I would come home late, if it all sometimes,” Snipes said. “Coaching then is a lot different than coaching now. I was lucky to have a wife, a daughter and my dad who were all behind me and supported me.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.