The Groton Indians, the greater Groton community and Tompkins County are mourning the passing of Indians football and basketball head coach Eric Prior, who died unexpectedly last week.
Prior, 51, died June 25 after playing recreation basketball at the YMCA in Cortland.
After first spending time as an assistant coach of the Indians’ football team under Tom Goddard, Prior eventually took the reins of the program, along with taking command of the school’s boy’s basketball team.The sudden and unexpected news of Prior’s passing spread quickly through the community and beyond with many friends, co-workers and present and former athletes taking to social media to share their stories of how Prior had impacted their lives on and off the field.
“The way I see it, coach Prior didn’t focus on how to win the next football game,” said Hart Sirvent, who played under Prior during the 2016 football season. “He focused on how to make each and every one of us good men, and he knew that those morals and character traits would translate into the game of football.”
The traits that Prior instilled into his players carried over beyond their high school careers, something that Sirvent, now a United States marine, is thankful for.
“On my hardest days of training, when I wanted to quit most, I would think back to those days of driving the football sled or doing sprints and remember what Coach Prior used to tell us: ‘Wild things do not feel sorry for themselves,’” he said. “His influence in my life allowed me to make it through times when, mentally, I felt as though I couldn’t move another inch.”Prior’s reach of influence spread far beyond the value he shared during practices. As a substitute teacher within the district, he was there whenever a student was in need.
“If you ever had personal problems, he would be first one to sit down and talk to you about it whether he was your coach, you substitute teacher, your teammate or just one of your friends,” said Travis Totman, who played under him on the boys’ basketball team this season. “If coach Prior ever saw that any of his athletes, especially, friends and students as well, were having a hard time, he was never afraid to take the extra time to help you.”
Although he coached football and boys’ basketball, Prior did not limit himself to only influencing the lives of young male athletes. He was willing to help any athlete who desired to get better.
“He taught me more than how to be a better basketball player,” said Maggie Ossit, a member of the girls’ basketball team and family friend of Prior. “He taught me how to have a strong work ethic, appreciate all that my parents do, how to be a vocal leader on and off the court and how to love your community.”
While those in the Groton community were certainly impacted by the life that Prior led, his influence didn’t stop with the Groton logo, as even rivals showed respect for a coach and a friend. Todd Mulvaney, the head coach of the Moravia boys’ basketball team, shared his thoughts on Prior’s passing.
“He was a great coach, leader, motivator and an even better person,” Mulvaney said. “He was a special man that impacted everyone that got to know him. The Moravia community is very sad and had a lot of respect for coach Prior and what he was about. We are all going to miss him, but are thankful for the time we got to share with him.”
The support and thanks for Prior was only more emphasized by a GoFundMe page that was set up in his honor, a page that raised nearly $35,000 in 24 hours.
While the pain of the loss of Eric Prior won’t dissapate anytime soon, his legacy in the Groton community and the lives of so many young people will never fade away.
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