A rising star in sports journalism, Pratt walks away to follow God’s call to ministry
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Even as he was working his way up that steep and shaky career ladder known as sportswriting, a small voice kept reminding Elliott Pratt he might jump away before reaching the sturdiest rungs.
“It was always in the back of my mind, ‘You are not going to do this forever,’” Pratt said recently.
In just five years, his name was beginning to pop up as one of the rising stars in a profession where significant advancement opportunities aren’t everyday happenings. When they do arise, they usually entail significant family changes or accepting major relocations.
Yet, less than five years after finishing college, Elliott Pratt was entertaining inquiries from bigger papers in bigger cities with bigger-name beats.
“There is a perception in a business with rapid change,” Pratt explained.. “Bowling Green is not a place where you stay if you want to excel in sports media. You want to move up to bigger markets: The professional teams, the power-five (college) teams. But I had this feeling like, ‘We are going to do some work here.’”
Doing some work might be an understatement.
“I didn’t know what (his thought) meant, but I know that it meant I wasn’t going to rush to get out of Bowling Green.”
Pratt was relating the change in his life journey from his new office at Bowling Green’s Living Hope Baptist Church. After four years on the staff at the Bowling Green Daily News, including a year as the beat writer for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Pratt made a career change earlier this year. He’s now the Associate Shepherding and Young Adult Minister of a church with nearly 2,000 members.
Pratt admits, “I’m learning every day and there are times I don’t know what I am doing.”
But he’s content and happy in the belief that he’s following a path he didn’t expect, but one that God has made quite clear.
The unlikely journey started while Pratt was a high school student in Springfield, Tenn. Pratt loved football — still does for that matter — and just wanted to write about the Springfield High Yellow Jackets. Armed with just a tape recorder, he made the gig work even though he was also marching in the school’s band.
The experience led to freelancing opportunities and a chance to write for the College Heights Herald, the student newspaper at Western Kentucky University, where he’d enrolled to study broadcast journalism. In addition, he was able to work as a stringer, covering high school sports for the Daily News.
Everything seemed to be on track for a solid journalism career. If he could hone the craft a bit more and there might be opportunities for industry-recognized excellence.
There was an internship at a Nashville TV station but when a job offer materialized upon graduation, it would have meant moving to Montana. It wasn’t exactly where Pratt had envisioned starting his career and the pay wasn’t great, so he accepted a position as sports editor of The Oldham Era, primarily covering high school sports just outside Louisville.
But let’s back up a bit.
On the career path Elliott Pratt chose, the first step was writing about high school football in Springfield, Tenn. But for where he is now, the more significant thing happened earlier when his parents made sure he was part of Grace Baptist Church in Springfield.
“I was born and raised in the church,” Pratt said. “I have never known a life apart from being taught you need to look and know how to look to the Lord and recognizing my depravity as a sinner.
“I gave my life to Christ when I was 16. I was baptized November 2, 2008.”
Elliott is grounded, no doubt. His mom taught Sunday school. His dad was a church deacon. The Pratt family was one that was at every gathering of the church — Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night.
But like many young people who go away to college — he was only an hour from home — that spiritual foundation was tested at WKU. He experienced what many young people do when they are on their own for the first time. If someone is not careful, it just happens. “When you get away from home, your faith can fade a little bit. You kind of put it on the back burner,” he said.
But the flame was still warming his heart.
In Oldham County, Pratt quickly became known for his story-telling style covering Oldham County, North Oldham and South Oldham high schools along with other local sports. He developed relationships with various coaches who were devout Christians and sought stories that related Christian faith and changed lives to sports performance.
“It wasn’t the overarching theme that this person was doing this for Jesus, but it was always a footnote at the end,” Pratt remembers. “It was how does this practically work in life? Why is this person different? Why is this person happy? It was because they were not doing it for their selfish reasons. They were not doing it to please man. They were doing it because of their faith.
The 15-months at The Oldham Era established Pratt’s credentials as a writer but, more importantly, was the time of growth as a Christian. “During that year in Oldham County, it was kind of a lonely season, but it also taught me to take ownership of my faith,” he says with a smile. “I think I finally settled in at Crestwood Baptist Church. When I say settled in, I think I went five Sundays in a row and snuck in to the back pew.”
But he still had the aspirations and duties that come with being a young writer. The Daily News offered an opportunity to head back to Bowling Green that was too much to turn down. It wasn’t quite the big leagues, but it was a daily paper in a college town. It was considered a major step up. Even though he’d focus on high school sports for three more years, Pratt knew there would be opportunities to cover the Hilltoppers along with some big league events in Nashville and Louisville.
“When I got back (to Bowling Green), I thought it would be fun,” Pratt says. “I thought it would be just like it was in college. When I was in college, I was an hour from home and I could go home.
“It was still really lonely, so I started looking for a church.”
And that church turned out to be Living Hope, where he’d occasionally attended while a student at WKU. It was the summer of 2017 when Pratt connected with a friend and got involved at the church. Little did he know where it would lead.
He just knew that he was to live his faith while writing about the Bowling Green Purples, the Warren Central Dragons or the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
“I just had this feeling that when I got back to Bowling Green, I was going to get plugged in to a local church,” Pratt says. “I had always said I would serve the Lord in my career and a vocational ministry. I feel all Christians are called to do that anyway. You are called to being disciples where you work, where you live in your communities. He said. ‘As you go.’”
“What does that mean? It just means as you are in the stores, as you raise your families, as you are in your social circles, where you work, you are supposed to be a light to those people.”
But little did Elliott Pratt know how God would use everyday life to effect a career change.
He loved his work at The Daily News. He loved telling stories and there was never a fear of losing his job, a huge plus in the uncertain world of journalism in the early 21st Century. “In this town, that job is valued. You have Western and you are covering the high schools. We covered 14 high schools. We covered every county that touched Warren County, so you are that source.”
But things got to be a grind. One Sunday morning, he was to drive to Lexington to cover the state high school football championship game that afternoon. It meant missing the Sunday School class he was teaching. There were other times he found himself checking Twitter or text messages during the worship service. It’s just the nature of sportswriting in a hyper-connected world with 24-hour news.
“You could never tune it out,” he says.
He loved his job but began to realize his love for serving God was deeper and his desire to be with his church family was strong. While on the Western beat, he caught early Sunday morning flights from Miami and Boston to make it back to Living Hope Baptist in time for the worship hour at 11 a.m.
And he knew he was quickly burning out on sports writing as a career. “I still loved the job. I love telling stories,” Pratt says, “but the level of obsession that a lot of people had, with like recruiting, there were times I would get a message on Friday night. I wasn’t covering anything but with the job, you stay on guard. You stay connected. I could be having dinner with some friends on a Friday night and you would get a (Twitter direct message), ‘Hey, what about this recruit down in Birmingham?’ Or, ‘So and so is not on the roster anymore.’ That guy on the roster might be a high-value recruit who hasn’t done anything, never played a snap.
“I was like, ‘Why on a Friday night do you care about this so much to direct message the writer? I was like, ‘Do you go home? Do you go outside?’
“It got to the point I wanted to tweet to people, ‘Go do something! Go outside and stop caring about this for a little bit! What you are caring about doesn’t matter!’”
Looking back, Pratt knows God used that sour taste for the sweetness of serving Him full time.
It started coming into focus as Pratt drove back to Bowling Green from a concert featuring country singer Jason Isbell in October of 2018. “The Lord laid it on my heart and it was like ‘Stop!’” he says. “Everything has happened to this point to show you I’ve got something for you.”
But what that something was remained a mystery.
He was transparent with the paper, telling them he was looking at something different. He didn’t know the timetable but wanted to be up front with his employer.
He began taking some classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and working as a ministry assistant at Living Hope, working first with high school boys, then with young adults.
Things were going great with small groups and a worship service geared to people in their 20s added.
“Things were growing,” Pratt smiles, “THEN the pandemic hit.”
Still employed by The Daily News, Pratt was in Frisco, Texas. “I was working the Conference USA Tournament when March 12 hit. I will never forget that day as long as I live.”
The second-seeded Hilltoppers were scheduled to take on UAB at 8:30 that night. “This was the year Western wins the tournament,” Pratt says of the expectations. “So I am sitting at a Starbucks, doing some seminary work, across the street from our hotel. I was about 10 minutes into a lecture. I was keeping tabs on Twitter but the game was like in four hours. I saw ‘SEC Tournament’ canceled.
“Everything hit like a wave. I went to the arena and Rice and Marshall women’s basketball was about to tip off. The guy who covers Marshall tweets, ‘Players have just been told to get off the floor. They have canceled the tournament.’”
Ironically, Pratt had offered to write as a freelancer for a Florida paper during the first round of the tournament on March 11. “I worked the Old Dominion-FAU game. That was the last basketball game I covered,” Pratt says with a smile.
Expecting to write about a glorious week for Hilltopper basketball, Pratt and two other Daily News colleagues became news reporters filing stories about the end of the college basketball season. As they made the 750-mile drive home the following day, it was still work with whoever was not driving checking sources and filing stories from their car.
“We worked like dogs. We wrote so many stories. We recorded videos,” Pratt says with a smile indicating amazement seven months later.
Back in Bowling Green, Pratt continued to deliver quality work. In fact, one of his finest pieces, a story written after the death of former WKU basketball star Chris Marcus, came in the spring. But it was also a time in which God was working.
“Let me tell you about that story. I got to minister,” Pratt remembers. “It was ‘How are you doing? What can we do for you? We are praying for your family.”
The wheels had been turning for almost 18 months when Pratt made the change. He accepted a call from Living Hope to work in shepherding and leading young adults. He also produces videos for the church. In addition his work at SBTS is a path to certification in counseling.
“When I accepted this job, I got phone calls and texts from people. When I told them what I was doing, they said, ‘That doesn’t surprise me,’” Pratt remembers.
But he was torn. There were some who advised him he could reach more people working as a journalist than he could as a church staff member.
And even though he’d been raised in a home with a deep Christian faith, he didn’t look forward to telling his parents of his career decision. “I told them I was sorry. I felt like I had wasted a degree from Western, all this time and energy invested over the years,” Pratt remembers.
But his parents said, “Don’t apologize for the route God took you down.”
The years as a writer were far from wasted. While he misses the daily interactions with players and coaches on the Hill, his story-telling skills are still being used. His job was to listen to people and tell stories. “It helped me with how I see the world now. It helped me with how I relate to people.”
But somewhat learning on the job — in addition to the SBTS classes, Pratt is being mentored by another Living Hope staff member and he has connected with some other churches for ideas — Pratt just ministers by being himself.
He preaches at least twice a month, but makes himself available just to minister, whether the person has a specific need or just wants to see someone.
“How much I depend on prayer has grown so much,” he says. “How much I depend on other people I never thought I would depend on has grown.”
When the high school and college football seasons got underway, he found himself watching press conferences and thinking what questions he would have asked. He’s also texted players and coaches he met on his Bowling Green beats, saying, “We are friends. I still want to help you in any way possible.”
It’s not surprising. Elliott Pratt cares about people.
He’s always cared. Now he can show it every day. On the day we met, what had been scheduled as an open-ended interview had to end by noon. We didn’t mind at all.
“Today, someone called. They said, ‘Hey we have tested (positive for COVID-19) and are not available. Can you take someone to the hospital in an emergency. It’s an opportunity for congregational care.
“If all I do today is drive somebody to Nashville and back for a doctor’s appointment, if someone says, what did you do today, I say I cared.”