WAUKON — More than seven years after her death, Chantel Snitker still has her sister’s back.
A white sign of memoriam, in the shape of a softball, is fastened to the center field fence of the Waukon High School diamond. Ironically, yet fittingly, Daneshia Snitker spends most of her time roaming center field, though Coach Bob Wasson said, “She would probably be our best defensive player at whatever position she played.”
It was Daneshia Snitker who, as a 10-year-old, threw out a ceremonial first pitch to open the Waukon Indians’ season in 2005.
“I remember I was pretty nervous,” she said. “But I think it was a strike.”
Daneshia is a 17-year-old junior now, the same age that Chantel was when she was fatally struck by an automobile on Old Highway 9 west of town in November 2004. She developed into a multi-tool player for the Indians (14-17), who have made an unlikely postseason run to the state tournament.
Waukon faces top-ranked Solon (35-6) in a Class 3A quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Monday at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.
It is the Indians’ first state voyage since 1996. And it’s a big deal in the Allamakee County seat.
After outlasting Dyersville Beckman, 5-3, in eight innings in the regional final (Daneshia knocked in the go-ahead run with a single) and returning to town, the Indians climbed onto fire trucks for an impromptu parade.
“There were probably 50 cars behind them,” Wasson said. “People are yelling and laughing. It was pure joy.”
Daneshia is batting a team-high .409 with 13 doubles and four home runs. She has scored 32 runs and has driven in 30.
Very good offensive numbers. But she might be even better defensively. She has pitched a little (she’s 2-2, with 19 innings under her belt, including two stroung outings in the regional series), played shortstop a little and anchored the outfield a lot. Through 31 games, she hasn’t committed an error.
“She has so much athletic ability and range,” Wasson said. “She is so fluid out there. You hit her fly balls in practice, and she wants you to make her chase them. She wants the challenging plays, the ones she has to dive for.”
When she takes her position, Daneshia stands about 50 feet in front of her sister’s sign.
“When I run out there, I always look at it,” she said. “It’s a good feeling. I feel like she’s out there with me.”
A four-sport athlete (she also plays volleyball and basketball and is a middle-distance runner in track), Daneshia shares her sister’s height — about 5-foot-8. But her physique is different.
“Chantel was more muscular,” said Jon Snitker, their father. “Daneshia’s more quick-twitch. She’s more slender and quick.”
Though seven years apart, the girls were close, along with their brothers Cody and Blaine, who were born between the sisters. As Jon spoke about his children, he looked at an old picture of the two girls, dressed in matching blue jeans and tank tops, both wearing bandanas on their heads.
Their mother, Nancy, regularly wears the ring that Chantel had on her finger the day she died.
“I wear that one, along with another one of hers that I found in her room,” Nancy said. “And I had one made with her name on it.
“When we were counting down the outs, I was thinking a lot of Chantel. I can’t help but think she was watching and smiling.”
Chantel and Jon shared a birthday, and countless hours together in which she pitched and he caught. Her work ethic rubbed off onto her younger three siblings.
So did her persona.
“I think she showed the boys and Daneshia how to treat others, and what your priorities should be in life,” Jon said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Every day is precious.”
Every opportunity counts, no matter how steep the odds. And Monday, they’ll be plenty steep.
“We’re very happy to be at state, but we’re going out there to win,” Daneshia said. “We have nothing to lose, and we believe in ourselves.”