John Schneeberger spends many afternoons sodding, tilling, aerating and downright maintaining his fields. The retired military man takes pride in having one of the most pristine fields in the region. But for the first time in six years, the veteran softball coach has a new plot of land that requires tender care.
After building a relatively successful program, Schneeberger resigned after five years at Lake Braddock and not long after, was hired to replace Chris Tippins as the new coach at Mount Vernon.
“When I first came down here, I knew it was the National District and everybody kind of pokes fun at it,” Schneeberger said. “The first thing I noticed about these girls is that they want to win. They seem to care.”
The girls immediately noticed Schneeberger reciprocated that compassion, both fostering a sense of team unity.
“I knew him from the season because we had played Lake Braddock before,” said senior catcher Tracy Carpenter. “I thought he’d really be good for our school and our team.”
Schneeberger’s most visible improvement, though, has been to the once-sagging facilities.
For years, the softball program was yet another overlooked spring sport, which meant its field doubled as football’s practice surface. So the funny-named coach was almost appalled when he first encountered the clumps of grass intermixed with barren splotches of dirt.
Schneeberger immediately went to work, sinking upwards of $6,000 of his own money in overhauling both the varsity and junior varsity fields. The same coach, who single-handily built a shed at Lake Braddock, has reinvigorated the infield with new dirt and reseeded the outfields. During the postgame interview, the players had to dodge rakes, which were immediately attacking the rough-upped dirt. Schneeberger considers it to be a labor of love.
“[Mount Vernon] seemed like a good fit,” Schneeberger said. “I think we make a difference. I think we make a positive difference.”
The Majors, who only have four seniors, have seen a significant difference. Considered to be a marginal district team, Mount Vernon has registered a 9-3 record, with double-digit wins in its past two games.
“[Schneeberger] taught us so much,” said pint-sized tri-captain Arendi Compton, who is the team’s star pitcher. “We’ve learned more than we ever thought we could learn.”
After a brutal 1-0 loss to rival West Potomac to open the season, the Majors won four of next five in its own tournament.
Mount Vernon then won its next four games, with solid wins over South Lakes, Georgetown Visitation and Edison, before rallying from two runs down to edge Falls Church.
“When I first met Coach S, I was thinking that he was really strict, but that he knew how to get the job done,” said senior left fielder Amber Hess. “He knew what to teach us in order to be a better softball program, which we have been. We improved tremendously.”
<b>BUT A SETBACK</b> against district favorite Yorktown quickly sobered the Majors, and made them realize how far they have to go.
After posting three runs in the top of the first, the Patriots exploded for seven runs behind a bases loaded double by Hannah Bauman. Though Mount Vernon’s Sally Gonzales and Courtney Hess both blasted home runs, every Patriot had a hit, with two notching four hits apiece en route to a 20-5 blowout.
“We got the snot crap beat out of us,” Schneeberger said candidly. “It was Custer's last stand and if we would have been the Mustangs, they would have killed the horse too. It was just a bad night.”
The Majors, though, regrouped over the next two nights. The following day, Mount Vernon handed Wakefield a 19-1 spanking, while under the light on Friday, the Majors embarrassed hapless Stuart, 24-0.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Carpenter said. “If we play hard and stay focused, we can beat pretty much anybody.”
Carpenter went one further, citing her coach as the catalyst for the newfound consistency.
“He made the girls work hard,” Carpenter said “And he made our field look a lot better.”