Seven years ago, Dickinson ISD’s then-new athletic director John Snelson was tasked with overseeing a department that was changing more than its leadership.
The school district was growing at a quick pace, having just four years prior being moved up from the state’s second-largest classification to its largest, and the athletics programs were struggling to keep up.
Snelson knew that to take Gators athletics to the next level, it was going to take much work from him and his staff, and the student-athletes needed to see that work.
“I’m not sure what it was like prior to us, but I wanted us to bring in a culture of toughness and a trust that we were going to work hard,” Snelson said. “We were going to be here early in the morning and late at night so that those kids could trust that they could count on us to be here for them, to be working for them and help them in whatever capacity that they needed — academically, athletically, socially, emotionally, spiritually.
“We just had a bunch of kids and coaches who put their nose to the grindstone, and we just went to work,” Snelson added.
Success didn’t come overnight, but the first signs of a turnaround came with the football team’s surprise trip to the playoffs in 2013, which followed a 2-8 season in Snelson’s first year as head football coach in 2012.
Since then, the Gators have been on a roll, starting with a 13-1 football season in 2014. Soon after, other programs, like boys basketball and baseball, have become perennial district title and playoff contenders, as well.
In addition to the hard work put in by coaches, strong backing from the school district and administration, top-notch facilities, great student-athletes and a supportive fan base have all been vital to a successful athletics program, Snelson said.
While one measure of an athletic program’s success is each teams’ wins and losses, another is the number of student-athletes the program is able to help obtain college scholarships, which Snelson noted is a year-round process.
“Lots of people only see the people who sign on signing day, but recruiting goes on year-round,” Snelson said. “Colleges will be signing kids and bringing kids on all the way up to the first day of practice in August.”
Between January to May of this year, Snelson said more than 120 college coaches have visited Dickinson’s campus, and the college recruiting process, and educating their student-athletes on that process, has become a huge part of the job for high school coaches.
“That part is probably the biggest change in the game from when I started back in the ‘90s,” Snelson said. “We’re constantly educating and communicating with our kids about how important their GPA is, how important it is to get off to a good start freshman year, how important their test scores are and getting them into those SAT prep courses, teaching them how to meet and greet college coaches when they come to our campus. … We just tell them that their transcript and their video is their resume.”
Preparing Dickinson’s student-athletes for the college recruiting process is spearheaded within the department by assistant athletic director Eric Anderson and is a team effort on the part of the coaching staff. Whenever a college coach pays a visit to Dickinson, the Gators coaches are armed with highlight videos and any other information the recruiter might need.
“When the coaches come in, we have all our kids’ information — their Hudl highlights, their height and weight, their GPAs and test scores, their email addresses and Twitter addresses,” Snelson said. “We are in constant contact with those coaches, and we’re always talking to our kids about where they’d like to go to school and who they have interest in.”
But, the recruiting process is far from limited to within the walls of the Dickinson field house.
“We make sure they get to camps, and we get them there even if they don’t have family or friends to get them there,” Snelson said. “We promote our kids year-round, whether we’re at coaching school or a coaching convention. Whenever we bump into those college coaches, we’re always talking about our kids.”
Going forward, Snelson said the goal for Dickinson athletics is to continue to be consistent winners and to eventually claim the program’s first team state title since 1977.
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a planned series on Galveston County’s athletics departments.