Having covered high school sports over the last dozen years, I’ve come to realize it’s not uncommon for student-athletes who pursue athletic pursuits in college to lose their love for that sport at the next level.
You can count Ryan Parise among that bunch. Just two years ago, Parise graduated from Elizabethtown High School in 2020 ranked third on the Bears’ boys basketball all-time scoring list with 1,070 career points. He went on to spend his collegiate freshman campaign at NCAA Division III Washington & Jefferson College, seeing four minutes off the bench in just one game in the 2020-21 season.
“I had no enjoyment of basketball,” Parise recalled. “It stressed me out. It felt like a chore everyday. I didn’t look forward to it at all, practice or games.”
His lack of playing time wasn’t the issue, though.
“It was weird,” Parise said. “I never felt like that before.”
Parise stepped away from basketball at the end of his spring 2021 semester. A year later, he has rekindled his love for the game, but at another university. The flame has been re-ignited in part by a car accident in which Parise was lucky to survive.
‘I blacked out’
A couple months removed from graduating high school, Parise was on summer vacation with his girlfriend and his family at Chincoteague, an island on the eastern shores of Virginia, in July 2020.
“We were just driving back from a day at the beach,” Parise recalled.
Parise was driving separately from his famly, in a black Hyundai Elantra, with his girlfriend in the passenger seat, when he noticed a car parked on the other side of the road, likely broken down from some mechanical issue. With traffic on a two-lane road going at a 55-miles-per-hour speed limit on either side, a driver coming the opposite direction swerved out in front of Parise in an attempt to avoid the car on the side of the road. It just missed colliding with Parise.
Then another car followed.
“I had no time to even hit my brake,” Parise said. “That’s when I blacked out for a couple seconds. Woke up. Smoke and everything.”
The car coming the opposite direction collided with Parise’s car head-on. Parise awoke and looked to his right.
“I’m nervous to see if my passenger survived,” Parise said.
He eventually pulled his passenger out of the car.
“I was praying over her, stabilizing her neck,” he said.
Everyone involved in the accident survived, including the driver of the other car. Parise escaped with a cut on a leg and a concussion. An ambulance soon arrived, emergency medical technicians strapping the passenger of Parise’s car to a gurney.
“We went to a hospital 45 minutes away,” Parise said. “I was sitting in the passenger seat of the ambulance, not knowing what was going to happen to her. …so many thoughts and doubts and worries going through my mind.”
‘Thanks to God’
Parise is the son of Rocky Parise, who was the starting point guard on the Elizabethtown College men’s basketball team that reached the 2002 NCAA Division III championship game. Rocky went on to coach his eldest son at E-town High School. In Ryan’s senior year with the Bears, and Rocky’s fourth and final year as E-town coach, the 2019-20 team notched the program’s first state tournament playoff win.
Related: After four years at the helm, Rocky Parise steps down as Elizabethtown boys basketball coach
“We went to church consistently through me being in sixth grade,” Ryan Parise said. “Then we backed off. Ever since the accident my whole life has been predicated on going to church, showing up.”
A near-death experience makes you think about what awaits you on the other side, a reality Ryan faced after returning home from the car wreck. Parise called Cam Norris, a family friend who has known Ryan since he was a toddler. Norris is a former Blue Jays basketball player, a devout follower of the Christian faith and a drummer of a band at the LCBC Church in Harrisburg.
“I called him (Norris) the night I got back home after the accident,” Parise said. “He just prayed over the phone with me. It was so powerful. I can’t even describe it. …that’s when I was like, ‘I need to give thanks to God. Fifty-miles per hour, both ways, head-on, in a small car like that.’”
“Most of what I was saying to him was just encouragement,” Norris recalled. “There’s good things in store for you. God has a plan for your life.”
Return to the game
After his conversation with Norris, Parise soon made the decision to follow the Christian faith.
But Parise struggled finding like-minded people after leaving for Washington & Jefferson in the fall 2020 semester. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the start of the 2020-21 basketball season being delayed by about three months, followed by an abbreviated 10-game schedule. By the end of the academic year, Parise informed W&J coach Ethan Stewart-Smith he was done with basketball. Parise stayed on as the team’s manager during the 2021-22 season, but he returned home over winter break in 2021 in searching of something more.
“For maybe three or four weeks,” Parise said. “I was mentally. …I was depressed. I was sad.”
One night last winter, Parise stayed up until 2 a.m. He awoke four hours later.
“I wake up wide-eyed,” he recalled. “My first thought is, ‘I need to go on a run and I need to bring my Bible.’”
Parise hopped in a car and made the short drive to a part of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail at Bainbridge in Conoy Township, with the intention to jog about a mile south to a popular site along the trail known as the White Cliffs.
“As I’m running, I turn and see three beautiful deer,” Parise said. “They had these big, bushy white tails. I thought, ‘That’s weird.’ They run away. I keep going. I turn a corner and the deer are waiting for me there again on the trail. This happened the whole mile-and-a-half until I got to the White Cliffs.”
When Parise got back to his car, he grabbed his Bible and opened it to Job, chapter 5. Specifically, he turned to Job 5:23, which reads: “You will be at peace with the stones of the field, and its wild animals will be at peace with you.”
Chills washed over Parise.
“I literally broke down,” he recalled. “My gosh, God is real. It was so powerful. This is the point in my life where I realized I need to actively pursue a relationship with Jesus.”
By the end of the spring 2022 semester, Parise decided to transfer to Messiah University, a private Christian university in Mechanicsburg.
“I ended up visiting Messiah in the spring,” Parise said. “I really liked it. I was hoping I didn’t like it so I could stay at W&J because it would’ve been easier to stay there. I prayed on it and felt the Lord was pushing me to Messiah.”
It was only by coincidence longtime Messiah men’s basketball coach Rick Van Pelt learned last month that Parise had transferred to the school. Van Pelt had originally recruited Parise when he was a senior at E-town.
Last month, Van Pelt called Shawn Shreffler, the Chambersburg head coach who moonlights in the spring and summer months as an AAU coach with the Harrisburg-based Central PA Elite program. Shreffler was Parise’s AAU coach.
“In the process, he (Shreffler) shared with me Ryan is coming to Messiah,” Van Pelt said. “He was transferring and is already there. One thing led to another. I had Ryan’s number in my phone from high school. I texted him and told him I would love to talk to him.”
Van Pelt offered Parise a roster spot at Messiah.
‘I’ll think about,” Parise responded.
Parise took a day to make a decision.
“I prayed on it and went to bed,” he said. “I woke up feeling 100 percent on playing again.”
Parise hadn’t touched a basketball in about six months until joining a 3-on-3 intramural basketball league at W&J last spring.
“I’ve stayed in shape lifting and running at school,” he said.
Over this summer, Parise has been participating in a men’s league at Spooky Nook in Manheim that largely consists of former Lancaster-Lebanon League and former District Three hoopsters, many of whom are currently playing at the next level.
“I’m trying to just fit in with the guys and see where I fall,” Parise said. “I do feel good. I feel stronger and faster than I ever felt before.”
He’s humble when asked about his aspirations in returning to the game at Messiah, but more open when talking about how he has grown in his faith over the last two years.
“Faith-wise you hear these incredible testimonies, but honestly it gets harder from there,” he said. “It’s not just a straight up to the top. It’s going to be a roller coaster. Up and down of emotions. You’re never going to be perfect everyday. There will be days you don’t read the Bible. There will be days you sin and mess up a bunch. Realizing we’re imperfect is when we truly accept God. That’s my life advice.”
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