It’s not often that someone sees a sports injury as God’s providence in their life, but when Matt Pryor (‘11) tore his UCL while pitching during his baseball career at Bethel University, he came to deem the event as just that.
“I threw a slider, I felt it pop, and it was one of those moments where I knew right away: I just blew my arm out,” Matt says. It was only his second year at Bethel, and he saw the door closing on his baseball career.
Pryor went on to have the unfortunate but well-known Tommy John surgery. Unfortunate because it means taking a tendon from another part of the body and using it to repair a damaged UCL. Well known, because it addresses one of the more common injuries among athletes who play throwing sports, made famous by the first pitcher to ever have the surgery, MLB All-Star pitcher Tommy John.
While some UCL injuries allow players to eventually return to the mound, this was not the case for Matt.
“That was really tough, because my identity was so wrapped up in being an athlete,” Pryor says. “It was definitely a soul-searching time of my life.”
He turned his attention to obtaining a degree in physical education, but even still he found himself wrestling with God and his own heart over his future.
“Once I stopped trying to open up all of the doors myself, once I finally started asking [God] to lead me down the path that he had set up for me…[and] I started following what I felt was his will, I found that a lot of those doors that were being shut in my face opened up to me.”
The 2A Quarter Finals, which the Minnehaha girls won against St. Peter with a score of 56-37.
A pickup game of basketball led to a job offer coaching JV Girls’ basketball at Concordia Academy. That role paved the way for him to step into the varsity coaching role, even as his job in physical education set him up to be the Athletic Director at St. Thomas More.
Then, in March of last year, Matt answered the phone to discover MA Athletic Director and former Girls' Basketball coach Josh Thurow on the other end.
“He literally said, ‘It’s time to come home.’ And here I found myself.”
The rest, as they say, is history. After a shaky start, Matt and assistant coach Scott Scholl led the Redhawk girls straight into the State championships where they took home the title for 2019.
Also from the 2A Quarter Finals. The girls took the 2A Semi-Finals against Albany with a score of 70-67 and ultimately took the State Championship in a game against Caledonia with a score of 72-63.
Stepping Up to the Role
When Thurow invited Pryor to “come home,” this was no flip turn of phrase. Matt had spent 13 years at MA, playing baseball, basketball, and studying. As a student he felt known and cared for by both his peers and teachers, and he welcomed the possibility of re-entering the MA community.
Part of coming home was also stepping back under the wing and mentorship of Thurow. “He was my teacher, he was my coach; he really invested in me as a player.... So from the moment I started coaching I would go to him, seeking advice; he would always make time for me to talk basketball, give coaching advice, give life advice, whatever it might have been.”
That’s not to say Pryor immediately felt comfortable in his new role.
“Josh’s record as a coach speaks for itself, so there were definitely some nerves coming in and trying to fill his shoes,” the young coach admits, laughing. “At the same time though, I was so incredibly excited.”
Matt knew he was stepping into a space rich in talent; he had previously coached against and lost to Thurow and the Redhawks Girls’ team in previous years.
“Knowing that we were coming into the season and had a chance to compete for the State Championship, the competitor in me, I mean, that just gets me going...To be able to take over a team that has as much talent as we had, that was incredibly exciting,” he says.
And while he acknowledges that winning a State Championship right off the bat definitely set the bar high, the nerves he feels about the coming year are less fear and more “nervous excitement” about going out and defending their championship.
A Matter of Identity
So, is Matt Pryor disappointed that he isn’t in the baseball world today? Not really.
What you might not know is that basketball was actually Pryor’s first love.
“I loved everything about it. I loved the intensity, I loved the fact that the fans are right there on top of you court-side and you can hear everything that they’re saying…[but] I was a better baseball player.”
And so, in a roundabout way, as Matt surrendered control over his path to God’s leading, he found himself back in the world of basketball, in a very different role but also with a very different perspective on life as a whole:
“I’m so glad [the injury] did happen, because you quickly begin to realize what’s important. Once you get your priorities straight, it's kind of amazing how everything else falls into place.”
And herein lies the challenge: To continue forward from that foundation of trust, constantly remembering that all else is shifting sand.
“When you wrap yourself up in an identity with something that can be taken away like that,” Matt says, “that’s not a solid base.” A good reminder for us all.
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