My Story…

Tuesday August 23rd I started a new life as I officially accepted Jesus into my life and got saved! This is my story…


I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in a religious Catholic family with parents who were great role models. They loved us unconditionally, taught us hard lessons and raised us in the church and around Godly people. My family and I went to church on Sunday’s, I attend CCD class during the week, served as an Altar Boy until 7th grade and earned all of the Catholic milestones along the way (Baptized as an infant, First Communion and Reconciliation). However, looking back I may have been religious at a young age but I definitely hadn’t accepted Jesus into my life. As my siblings and I grew older and became more involved in sports and more and more problems seemed to arise in Catholic Churches throughout the country my family’s attendance began to falter. By the time I was in high school, college and graduate school the only time you would see me in Church was Christmas and Easter. Quite honestly, that was only part of it. During those years, I prayed before games and when I needed help but that was about it. God had become a crutch I leaned on only when I needed it. I knew He was out there but He really wasn’t a focal part of my life.


Then, I starting dating my now wife and eventually met her family. They were a strong Christian family who put nothing before God. When I met the Waddell’s my first thought was, “Wow, they are awesome people!” My second thought was, “Man, I don’t know how they can live like that.” To me, it seemed like they NEVER had one negative thought or committed one sinful action. Me, on the other hand, well, let’s just say I needed a lot of work. Furthermore, they went to church on Wednesday, twice on Sunday and taught Sunday school. At the time, that was about the extent of my attendance at church throughout an entire year. As Brooke and I grew closer and closer, so did my relationship with her parents and ultimately God. I started going to church again every Sunday, opening up my Bible here and there and praying more frequently. But still, I had a long way to go. Deep down in my heart I hadn’t fully accepted God into my life. How could I? It seemed so hard. The time commitment to learn and change some of my behaviors seemed impossible. Can’t cuss? How could I do that while in coaching? No drinking? What’s wrong with having a couple of beers on a Friday or Saturday night? Read the bible and pray? How in the world was I going to do that with all the things I had on my plate? Better yet, where do I even start? I knew some of the major Bible stories but that was it. Ask me where the book of John was or what tithing was and I’d look at you as though you were speaking Japanese!


With that said, my relationship with God was improving. When I got married to my wife I promised her and her father (which wasn’t hard to do considering he was holding a shot gun…no joke) I would continue to seek God. I was improving and learning more about the powers of God by attending Brooke’s home church in Greeneville and Sevier Heights Church here in Knoxville but still, deep down, I hadn’t made the ultimate leap of faith. I was changing on the outside and becoming a religious person but on the inside I was still questioning many things and thus truly not a faithful Godly man.

Then my life was flipped upside down. Married with a 6 month old daughter, I was fired from my job. I didn’t know what to do. How was I going to provide for the two loves of my life? Was I going to have to get out of the profession that I loved? Were we going to have to move? These were just a few of the million stressful questions that constantly ran through my head. Sure I was pressing on, doing whatever I could to try to find a job, but on the inside I was torn up. Until, finally on April 24th, with tears running down my face while listening to Pastor Rudd at my in-laws church in Greeneville, I prayed to God fully committing myself to Him, desperately laying it all on Him. I needed Him. I needed His guidance. I needed His wisdom. I needed His love. I was hurting and as hard as it was for me to admit, I couldn’t do it myself.  Honestly, I needed anything He could give me.

I’ll never forget the difference I felt inside of me walking out of church on that Sunday, having accepted Jesus into my heart.

From that day on I tried to dive deeper into my Bible, consistently pray and ultimately making some character changes. However, because I’m the type of person who likes to try and figure everything out myself, this huge task began to really frustrate me. I didn’t know really where to start. When it came to the Bible and everything about the Church, I was similar to a 3rd grader. Noah’s Ark? Yeah, I remember hearing about it when I was a kid and at church a couple of times but that’s about it. I was so confused. However, I know God knew I was trying as He blessed me in so many ways during this time such as answering my deepest prayers when I got rehired at the University of Tennessee. His many blessings and the comfort and friendship His relationship had provided me had only reaffirmed my commitment to Him. However, my frustration continued to grow because of my lack of Christian knowledge. I wasn’t improving as much as I wanted to. I knew I had accepted Jesus into my life but I wanted to become a better Christian husband, father, friend and Coach. I wanted to gather the knowledge necessary to be able to spread His word amongst all of those around me.

I finally let go of my stubbornness  (momentarily) and contacted our Team Chaplain, Roger “Chap” Woods, and Executive Pastor at Sevier Heights, Greg Williams, and asked them to begin doing a bible study with me. As we began meeting, I told Chap my story and he was thrilled to hear all about my journey and genuinely proud of the decision I had made. Before we moved any further during our meeting on August 23rd he asked if I had ever read the Sinners Prayer? To which I responded “No. Honestly, I don’t even know what that is.” (Once again showing my adolescent knowledge of the Christian life) After Chap explained it I said, “Let’s do it!” So, at 8:23 AM on August 23rd I OFFICIALLY ACCEPTED JESUS CHRIST AS MY LORD AND SAVIOR!

I am so thankful that God has put Greg and Chap into my life!  Through my Bible studies with them, attending small groups at Sevier Heights and studying and praying at home I have grown SO much over the last month and a half. Do I have a long ways to go? ABSOLUTELY. But, now that I have God in my heart and Godly people around me, I know I can do anything as Matthew 6: 33-34 states, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” I look forward to making a positive impact on those around me in the future as a Godly husband, father, friend and Coach! Thanks be to God!


NOTE: A special thanks goes out to my parents for putting God in my heart at an early age, my wife, her family and their community for showing me that it is ok to love God and have him in your heart, and to my friends of Sevier Heights for being Godly role models to me. I can’t wait to keep learning and improving! Thank you!



About Mark Pancratz's Blog

A native of Schaumburg, Ill., Mark Pancratz played Division I basketball at UW-Milwaukee, earning his degree in marketing and finance. He joined Tennessee's staff in 2006 as a graduate assistant, earning his master's degree in sports management later that year. Serving as a G.A., director of video scouting and assistant to the head coach, Pancratz was an integral part of Tennessee's six-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. At 26, Pancratz boasts an impressive 18 games of NCAA Tournament experience as a player and/or administrative staff member. He is a member of the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and voted one of the 100 Legends of Illinois High School Basketball. Pancratz resides in Knoxville and is married to the former Brooke Waddell.
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4 Responses to My Story…

  1. Craig Price says:

    Mark , that is AWESOME! You have such a tremendous platform at UT. I’ll be praying for you as you continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.


  2. Mike Mazanek says:

    Mark, I congratulate you on your personal commitment to God and our Lord Jesus Christ. You’re story touched me greatly as it reminded me of myself in a lot of ways from being active in church as a child, losing my faith in my teens, finding it again in college at UT and making a personal commitment to renew my efforts to follow God and Jesus more faithfully the year before marrying in 1966.

    Since our marriage my wife and I have worked hard to keep our faith strong and vibrant by accepting the Lord as the center of our marriage now for 45 years, and through Christian community in many forms including regular church worship, church-based in-home small faith sharing groups, sacrifices of both our “treasure” and ourselves in service to others and regular dedicated time of prayer and scripture study.

    The difference between us is that my personal commitment started with first examining myself to discern what and who our God is to me, and how I felt I was being drawn to Him in the most personal way for me. My search took place in Knoxville and Huntsville as a UT coop in the mid sixties, and led me to examine several Christian religions and their teachings in order to see which might fulfill my desire to make my personal commitment in the best way for me.

    My revelation was that, while a loving and caring community is certainly needed for support and long term growth in faith, the most personal commitment for me was to accept the Lord’s real and living presence in the Eucharist preserved for 2000 years by the Catholic church. Since my 1964 Catholic confirmation at age 21 in Huntsville, my faith is renewed and deepened every time I receive the Lord in the Eucharist at Holy Mass after learning more of His way in scripture, worshiping Him in community, examining my life and its meaning for Him, and accepting His loving forgiveness with resolution to renew my efforts to serve Him such as I can.

    There are many paths up the mountain, and my prayer for you is that your new beginning will keep you as close to our Lord the rest of your life just as it has reminded you that he was in your heart all along – Peace!

  3. jkirby77 says:

    Wow, as a newly hired first year High School Varsity Coach I cannot even imagine the hours you must put in at Tennessee, but this has helped me to realize that I need to stop the excuse making. I know that I need to make the leap of faith and become saved and get into my bible my I have always used time as my excuse because I was so busy coaching. The sad part is, that was just on the JV and varsity assistant levels. I am a new follower of your blog and I look forward to future posts about coaching, Jesus, and Tennessee!!

  4. Ken Duncan says:

    Welcome to the family! One of my coworkers shared the link to your story and I look forward to standing with my new “brother” in our battle for the hearts and minds of this world! Now you can join me as we, like Paul Revere( ), ride throughout the countryside warning our friends and neighbors of the enemy’s attack! However, now we not only know who the enemy is, but WHO in the end wins the victory!

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