In Play with Tom Markowski


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Mike Williams battles MS the same way he faces life, with an open mind and a strong heart

By: Tom Markowski, December 20, 2015, 12:47 pm




Flint – As early as 2008 Mike Williams had a suspicion that something was wrong with him.

His sense of hearing was different and his equilibrium was off, almost as if he had vertigo. Williams admitted himself to University Hospital in Ann Arbor and he went through a number of tests including an MRI. The results were inconclusive. The opinions he was given ranged from a possible sinus infection to multiple sclerosis. But, again, the prognosis was unclear.

Williams returned home to his wife Patrese and his two-year-old son, Charles Michael Williams, Jr., who is better known as Buddy, and didn’t think much of it until early this year.

Williams, 39, is the boys basketball coach at Flint Beecher and has been since the 2004-05 season. Williams entered the gymnasium this past January and began rubbing his eyes.

“My eyes were blurry,” Williams said. “I was squinting. I thought I was my eyes just adjusting to the light.”

But it was more than that. Beecher athletic director and football coach Courtney Hawkins came in to watch practice. He immediately noticed something wrong with Williams. Hawkins told Williams that his eyes were crossed and that his body language was irregular. Hawkins told Williams to go to the hospital.

“The doctor gave me some medication,” Williams said. “Two weeks later I went through some tests including an MRI and some blood tests. I was sent to a neurologist and I had a spinal tap.”

This time the tests were conclusive. Williams had MS.

After the initial shock Williams asked what he could do to combat the disease. Almost immediately Williams was administered Tecfidera, or dimethyl fumarate, a drug patients take orally that treats the disease. Williams ingests the dedication twice a day, every day.

Over 400,000 people in the United States have MS. The type Williams has affects the brain. He suffers from chronic fatigue and vertigo.

“It’s hard to describe, with it being so new,” Williams said. “It doesn’t affect me physically. I have episodes. I sometimes get nauseous. It feels like pins and needles sometimes.

“One thing I know, I would take naps before practice years ago and my wife would kid me that I was like a little child.

“Doing my research I talked to people who have it. One of my best friend’s wife has it and she just got her nursing degree.

“It’s not the death sentence. That some people might think it is. A lot it is physical. A lot is how you’re feeling. I’m young. I have a lot I want to accomplish in my life. I want to be the man I was raised to be. We get on as best we can. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m happy I can coach. I’m happy I can coach my son. I became good friends with (former Beecher basketball star) Roy Marble before he passed. I saw what he went through and it hit me hard. Everybody has something to deal with.”

Marble led Beecher to the Class B title in 1985 before becoming one of Iowa’s top players as he helped lead the Hawkeyes to the NCAA tournament four times (1986-89). He died of cancer in September.

Williams doesn’t make a big deal out of his illness. For months many of his friends didn’t he had the disease. Just because he has MS doesn’t mean he has to limit what he wants to do in life. He and his wife had a second child in August of 2014 and Williams wants to continue to help young people in the Flint area grow and develop. A graduate of Grand Blanc High School and Ferris State University, Williams teaches mathematics and physical education at Flint Northwestern.

Williams is a fighter. Standing five feet, eight inches, Williams was constantly picked on as a child for his diminutive size. This teasing merely made him more determined to be a strong person inside and out. He played football and basketball at Grand Blanc and played football for a spell in college.

Gradually basketball became his passion. With basketball coaches like Mose Lacy (Beecher), Tony Holiday (Flushing, Flint Northern), Norwaine Reed (Saginaw Buena Vista) and Grover Kirkland (Flint Northwestern) as mentors, Williams listened, watched and learned how to run a program and be successful.

Williams guided Beecher to the Class C final in 2008 and to titles in 2012, ’13 and last season. Beecher is 4-1 this season and ranked No. 1 in Class C in State Champs’ first regular season rankings.

He’s lost 20 pounds since March and much of that is attributed his change in eating habits. Williams is eating more fruits and vegetables, and has cut down on his red meat intake.

“I feel my best around my (players) and family,” he said. “I have times where I don’t feel so good. I have episodes. I treat it like a basketball game. You get all the information to make the fight easier. This is what needs to be done. When you get stressed. When I do get stressed, I walk away. What it boils done to is that it is a game. Its life lessons. There are obstacles.

“Right now I’m fine. I feel blessed. It could be worse.”