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Time well spent

With a sense of pride and a sigh of relief, Don Schneider finalized a move he’s been wanting to make for a couple years Wednesday night at the American Legion Post 15 headquarters in Medford.

After 27 seasons as general manager of the Medford Mustangs — and 30 seasons overall with the American Legion AAA baseball program — Schneider plans to hand over the reins to the vastly successful squad to current pitching coach Paul White at the end of this season.

“It’s a tough job and it’s not easy to find someone who can devote the time to it because it is time consuming,” Schneider said leading up to his announcement. “My wife’s health isn’t as good as it should be or could be, and I need to have someone move in, I am 82 years old after all.”

“I’ve looked and looked and finally talked to Paul White, knowing that he could do a great job,” added Schneider. “I asked him if he’d be interested (two weeks ago) and he surprised me by saying yes he would. I’m elated, especially because he’s going to have a lot of help. His wife Linda is a tremendous person and organizer and Paul knows a lot of people and I’m sure that he can step this program up.”

With 12 state championships, four regional championships and two national runner-up finishes to their name, the Medford Mustangs have been one of this region’s premier summer programs since inception.

For White, as much as anything, the mindset is to stay the course Schneider has plotted out during his tenure.

“We don’t need to change much,” said White, who turns 53 next week. “It’s a well-oiled machine now and if you can do it anyway near as good as Don, then you’re doing really well.”

A 1951 Medford High graduate, Schneider played second base for the city’s American Legion baseball program from 1948-50 — before the Mustangs program became a reality. He’s enjoyed a lifelong love for the game of baseball and got involved in Babe Ruth baseball when he moved back to Medford in 1982. Schneider joined the Mustangs in 1986 as an assistant to then-GM John Purcell and ultimately took over as general manager in 1989.

Under Schneider, the Mustangs have earned nine of their state titles and all of their regional and national acclaim.

“In the last 30 years, we’ve won almost one-third of the state championships,” he said, “and we’ve been runner-up more times than I’d like to recall, too, in that timeframe.”

While Schneider is quick to credit the tremendous talent available to the Mustangs over the years, as well as pivotal guidance of the team’s coaching staff, it’s clear that the GM himself has played an undeniable role in the program’s consistent success.

“If you ask anyone that knows anything about the Mustangs, they’ll say it’s all been Don behind the scenes doing all the hard work to make it happen and really hold it all together,” said Colin Sowers, a former player and current assistant coach for the Mustangs.

Ex-Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger, who posted a 758-239 record in his 19 seasons at the helm, said he considers Schneider “like a second father” and is thoroughly appreciative of the GM bringing him into the fold in 1990.

“If it wasn’t for Don Schneider, there would be no Mustangs,” said Kensinger. “I’m sure someone could piece something together but he has always been first class with the kids. From how we traveled to the places that we stayed and how much money he gave them for meals, it was first class all the way, always. I’ve shared a lot of great times with that man, he’s very special to me.”

Kensinger also said Schneider has put up with a lot over the years, and quickly turned to a weekend years ago when the team was playing in Eugene but since it was graduation weekend at the University of Oregon, the Mustangs had to be lodged near Brownsville.

“I remember we ran out of gas right there on the highway driving back to Brownsville after our first game and Don just hopped right out and started walking down I-5 because he was pissed,” Kensinger said with a chuckle. “I hopped out and started walking with him and put out a thumb and eventually we got picked up by a truck and got gas and got everyone back.”

Without prompting, Schneider brought up that same event when going over some of his more memorable times with the Mustangs.

“Sandee was famous for pushing the envelope,” he said matter-of-factly. “He’d say, ‘Oh, I can make it to the next service station,’ well a couple times he didn’t.”

“It was like midnight when we finally got to the hotel,” Schneider added of that fateful night, “and the bad thing about it was, the bar closed at 12.”

Schneider laughs at that moment today, and it’s just one in a number of stories that he fondly recalls to the tiniest detail when it comes to Mustangs lore. If you have been part of the program in any manner — be it player, coach, parent or financial supporter — Schneider likely has a story to tell regarding your impact over the years.

It’s when this topic comes up that the usually stoic and reserved Schneider offers a rare display of emotion.

“The association with the kids and to see how they develop and move on through their lives has been really special,” he said with a lump in his throat. “A lot of kids have gotten scholarship opportunities and professional opportunities and it’s gratifying to see how that’s evolved over the years. You kind of feel like you’ve helped them make that next step.”

“It’s gratifying to see them all over the years,” Schneider added of his close-knit Mustang family. “Even though they’ve been removed from the program for five or six years or more, they still come up and greet you with a smile and give you a hug or shake your hand. There’s a lot of fine young men, as well as their families, who have come through this program.”

That respect has been well earned, according to Nate Mayben, who played for the Mustangs from 1997-99 and took over for Kensinger as manager in 2011.

“Don’s an amazing person,” said Mayben. “There’s not very many people that would commit 30 years of their life to running a program for kids to play baseball. Everything we’ve done has been first class 100 percent of the time, and it’s that way just because of what Don does.”

Schneider has served as the team’s statistician, scoreboard operator and announcer during games. He coordinates all the team’s fundraising efforts, fosters its affiliation with Post 15 and handles more tasks than can be listed here, including doing the team’s laundry each night when he is able to travel with them.

“We all don’t know what Don does 100 percent because he just does it,” noted Mayben. “He hardly ever asks for help, he just does it.”

For three decades, Schneider said he doesn’t really have an answer to how he’s been able to do it all, other than that it’s something he loves to do and has enjoyed.

“I look forward to every game, every season,” he said.

Schneider said he plans to remain involved with the program and serve as an aide to White as he makes his transition. He just celebrated his 63rd anniversary in June with his wife Colleen, and two of his four grandchildren are still active in athletics locally.

“It’ll all work out,” he said.

As for now, Schneider is hoping his Mustangs continue to thrive and remains humbled to have been part of the program’s rich history.

“I just appreciate all the support that I’ve gotten over the years,” Schneider said. “It’s just been tremendous. So many people have really stepped up and really helped us whenever we needed it, and I just can’t say thank you enough.”

“It’s nice to know we’ve got a solid basis and I think Paul can make that grow,” he added. “I’ve admittedly probably slowed down a little bit the last couple of years and I’m sure he can make things happen.”

White’s response?

“Don may be getting older but he’s not getting any slower,” he said. “He can still run across the street with the best of them. … You can tear up when you talk about Don because you don’t get a better human being. Those are big shoes to fill. I just want to give back to the community and I love being around the kids and this program. Don’s taken and made this a really, really good tradition and it’s something I have a passion to continue.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

After 27 seasons as general manager of the Medford Mustangs, Don Schneider plans to hand over the reins to the vastly successful squad to current pitching coach Paul White at the end of this season. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH