Heart River boys basketball head coach Greg Pruitt has been coaching for the better part of 20 years. This past season, he led the Cougars to a fourth place finish at the Region 7 tournament.
However, he won't see a penny of his $5,000 basketball check. Instead, he used it to create the Little Buddy Foundation to purchase prosthetics for children whose families otherwise couldn't afford one.
The foundation is inspired by and in memory of Don Meyer, a decorated college basketball coach and long-time friend and mentor of Pruitt.
Meyer, who went 923-324 as the head coach for Hamline University, Lipscomb University, and Northern State University, was involved in a car accident in 2008, which resulted in him losing his left leg from the knee down. During the surgery, doctors found cancer in his liver, which eventually took his life in 2014.
Prior to his death, Meyer spoke at Heart River schools.
"When he came he talked to us about perservering, things in life and trying to learn to serve others and help others," Pruitt said. "At that time, Coach walked around and he talked to our elementary class and he read a story and he called his prosthetic leg that he had, 'little buddy.' The little kids were just fascinated with that."
It was this that inspired the foundation's name
Ahead of formally creating 'Little Buddy', Pruitt called up Don's wife, Carmen, for her blessing.
"Well, I was very surprised, but when I thought about it, it sounded like something that Greg would do. He has such a good heart and he and Don had a really special relationship," Carmen Meyer said. "I know he has a great love for kids of all ages and certainly this is a way for him to show that love for kids who have a disability."
With the help of Jordan Selinger, one of the first athletes Pruitt coached and a lawyer in Dickinson, Pruitt got the foundation and website up and running around Christmas.
"He first started coaching me in fourth or fifth grade basketball and coached me all the way up until my senior year all except for one year of basketball," said Selinger a 2009 Dickinson Trinity graduate. "This last fall, Greg contacted me and said, 'Hey, I got this idea that I kind of want to start to leave my legacy a little bit.' We had talked about his relationship that he's built with Don Meyer and he kind of brought the idea to me."
Little Buddy's funds go through Dickinson Area Community Foundation, which Selinger was involved with. Donations have already started to come in from all over the country by word of mouth and www.littlebuddyfoundation.org, which went live before Christmas.
"Greg gets so excited about these things. That energy really pushes the foundation to get better and better," Selinger said. "While it is a relatively new foundation, it is growing at a pretty good pace. That's kind of exciting. You see more people hearing about it and more people that we get to reach out to and tell our story to. It's going to turn into something that's really going to be a great benefit."
Once a secure and sufficient amount of money is in the fund, Pruitt will start looking for children who need a prosthetic, which he said can range from $3,500 to upwards of $50,000.
"The ultimate goal would be to open it up nationally, to get it out there but to me it doesn't matter. Whoever needs something," Pruitt said. "There's no better feeling than helping somebody in need. That's one of the things Coach Meyer really stressed with me. Each day your focusing on yourself rather than helping others is a miserable waste of day."
Pruitt first met Meyer in 2006 at a Dickinson Trinity basketball game in Divide County.
"When we got to Divide County there was like an electrifying buzz in the gym. It was kind of weird. We thought maybe because there was two teams state ranked playing each other," Pruitt recalled. "Later we found out it was because Coach Meyer drove all the way up there to recruit on of Divide County's players. After the game, Coach Grinsteiner and myself were down on the court and Coach Meyer came down and that's when I shook his hand for the first time. From there we built a good rapport with each other."
In 2009, Meyer won the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY's. Despite the crash, he didn't miss coaching a game at Northern State and became the all-time leader for wins in NCAA men's basketball history, a title Duke's Mike Krzyzewski took over in 2011.
Also in 2009, Pruitt started coaching at Heart River, bringing his team to Meyer's basketball camp at Northern State University in Aberdeen every year.
"He's one of the most motivational speakers I've ever met. Every word that he had was a message. When somebody like that is in your presence, when he goes about teaching his lessons on life, he had everybody's attention.
"After Coach Meyer had passed away it's one of those things, you start to go through all the things that he sent me. He sent me a lot of different emails and a lot of different information on life. ... One of the things was to serve others. It really hit home to me because there's so much going on within the world and different things were going on. I thought what a better thing to do than try to help somebody and try to tie a connection to Coach Meyer."