More than 33 years ago, American River College needed a new assistant athletic director. Lyndell Wilken, who was moving to Oregon and leaving ARC, called Jean Snuggs to suggest Snuggs apply for the job. “They are really, really desperate — they might hire you,” Snuggs laughed as she quoted her friend. Snuggs applied and got the job, and what started as a joke ended up being a career lasting over 33 years, which will end this June when Snuggs retires. “I’m healthy and want to do the stuff I have been too busy to even think about,” she said.
Snuggs earned her degree in physical education from the University of Chicago in January of 1972 and immediately began teaching at Cooper Junior High in Buffalo Grove, Ill. She had not planned to teach; she wanted to research motor learning skills, also known as kinesiology, but since she graduated early and had an extra semester free, she took the teaching position as a temporary job.
That spring Title IX passed, opening up competitive sports to female student athletes, and Snuggs, already teaching physical education, was in the perfect position to coach women’s sports. The other women’s physical education teacher had no interest in athletics, so Snuggs stepped up to the challenge. “There was no way I was going to just let it go,” she said. Although she had not taken any coaching classes, Snuggs decided to take on the coaching position and ultimately to stay. Over the following four years she coached volleyball, basketball, track and field, and field hockey.
“I was really fortunate because it was a big school for cross country and track and field, and the guys really helped me out since I had no coaching experience,” Snuggs said. “They jumped right in, and we practiced three or four hours every night.” Snuggs didn’t compete in any sports during her early education — no women did until after Title IX — so she was very aware of the great opportunity for girls to be able to play sports competitively in school. She became very interested in cross country and track and field; “It was really fun. We had a good time,” she said.
Snuggs completed her master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University and developed interest in exercise physiology, which led her to Sacramento and University of California, Davis where Jack Willmore, the leading expert in exercise physiology, was teaching. After Willmore left Davis, Snuggs realized she missed teaching and soon got the call from Wilken to apply at ARC. After being an adjunct instructor for a year, a full-time job opened up and Snuggs has been on the ARC faculty ever since.
In a career studded with honors, Snuggs led ARC cross country to 12 conference championships, and the track and field team to 10, worked on the local organizing committee for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2004, chaired the Commission on Athletes Management Council, and is currently a city appointee on the Sacramento Sports Commission (see sidebar). After coaching and teaching for many years, in 2001 Snuggs was appointed dean of athletics and kinesiology, the position she still holds until her retirement in June.
“This has been a fun place to work,” Snuggs said, “especially teaching (physical education). It is such a positive thing to do, and students thank you every day for a good workout.”
Snuggs may be retiring from the world of work, but she will be no stranger to working out. Her first retirement activity will be to fly to Great Britain and walk across the island — 190 miles — taking an estimated two weeks to complete the crossing. Snuggs also enjoys bicycling, participating in 1,000 to 1,500-mile bike trips as well as cross-country skiing.
Snuggs had not ever planned to teach, but found her way to the calling by keeping her eyes peeled for opportunity in her field. She sets a high standard for educators at ARC, the state of California, and for the nation as well. ARC has been lucky to have Jean Snuggs for the last 33 years, and we send our heartfelt thanks and best wishes to her as she heads off to pursue her own interests.
“I’m going to miss this place,” she said, “and I don’t know what to do about that.”