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Ryan Neises: Athletics’ unsung hero

Ryan Neises has a job like no other in the Ohio Valley Conference.

His position: coordinator of academic services and sports ministry.

Neises’ job consists of meetings with student athletes. He makes sure their needs are met and that they are set up for success with their school work. It’s during these meetings that the unique aspect of his job comes into play.

He gets to talk to these student athletes about faith, emotional health and well-being. Too many within athletics, he acts like a counselor or spiritual guide.

“If any athlete needs help with something, they come to me and we set them up with the right support structure,” said Neises. “Whether it is tutors or something else, really, it’s whatever they need.”

To understand his current job, one can first look back to the beginning of sports ministry at Belmont.

Ryan Neises with student athletes in Poland.

The formative years of sports ministry at Belmont were first captained by hall of famer Betty Wiseman in the early 1990s. Before she began her athletics ministry work, the ideas of spirituality and sports seemed far apart. However, it was her early call to faith that took Belmont in the direction of intertwining the two.

She gathered groups of student athletes who wanted to experience missions trips, led by her, to various countries across the globe.

To Wiseman, the work of a sports ministry advisor could be perceived as an act of destiny called upon by God, she said.

Whether it was coming up with the needed funds through fundraising or finding missions partners to help in the communities abroad, things always seemed to fall into place, Wiseman said.

“I always felt I had a ministry here with my teaching and my coaching. and then I began to think, ‘How can I get my students, these athletes, engaged in this kind of giving back?’” said Wiseman.

She took note firsthand of how the work they did for others actively changed the hearts of the athletes involved.

“First of all, the impact it had on these athletes,” said Wiseman. “I was so privileged to watch, right before my eyes, transformation.”

The work she first burdened has now been passed to Neises, and he bears it joyfully each year, taking groups of Belmont athletes on trips abroad doing work that helps communities around the world.

Within the past year, Neises has led several different trips with student athletes. Last December, it was a homeless outreach in San Diego. This past summer, he led a trip to Poland.

Sophomore softball player Jessica Parente was on this Poland trip. The work Neises does assists in leading her and many others through their own spiritual journey, Parente said.

Jessica Parente on the mission trip to Poland.

“He isn’t just the guy that was on the trip with us making sure we were doing the right thing. He was one with us, growing in his faith with us and exploring things with us,” said Parente.

Neises said he is in the business of athletics not to win games, but to change lives.

He yearns for the students involved to feel connected to the communities they work in and impacted by the lives they reach, he said.

For Neises, reaching student athletes isn’t just part of the job, but part of his heart — he actively cares about each individual he interacts with, he said.

“I just love being a part of students’ lives, and having the opportunity to share life with them” said Neises.

These sentiments manifest themselves in how he reacts to being around the most vulnerable in society: children.

On his mission trip to Poland, Neises and the athletes spent time at an orphanage. There, all they were asked to do was play with the children. When the time came to leave, Neises broke down in tears.

Neises with his mission group in Poland.

The tears were brought not out of sadness, but out of love for the kids he’s spent time with, he said.

But for Neises, it isn’t about being a spectacle or being praised as a nice guy. For him, it’s simply about walking alongside those in need, he said.

“He brings a lot of comfort into lives. Even when he has a lot of unknowns, too,” said Parente.

Simply put, the job Neises holds is about discipleship and transformation of these student athletes.

“I’m not just this Christian guy separate from athletes’ everyday life, I am in life with them,” Neises said. “I have always wanted to use sports to transform lives.”

— Article written by Ian Kayanja. Photos courtesy of Jessica Parente.

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