Graduate exhibits unwavering support for Spartan athletes

Robbie Fraser, Executive Sports Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Alumnus James Williams staffs the concessions during the Glenbrook North Thanksgiving basketball tournament. According to Williams, volunteering for Booster Club is one of many ways he supports GBN teams. Photo by Hope Mailing

The first person to arrive and the last to leave the girls swim team’s conference meet on Nov. 4 was not one of the swimmers or coaches. It was alumnus James Williams (‘10), according to Robin Walker, girls swimming and diving head coach.

“We walk into the conference meet at Vernon Hills, and there he is up in the hot bleachers with his [Glenbrook North] parka on, waiting for us to arrive,” Walker said.

Williams is a Northbrook resident who has published three books and traveled the nation speaking about his high-functioning autism. When he is not working, Williams dedicates his time to attending as many GBN sporting events as possible, an endeavor which he began his sophomore year of high school, according to Williams.

“There were some kids who were not very nice [to me during high school] and made fun of me for having autism,” said Williams. “However, I was socially taken in by some athletes on some of the sports teams, and we became friends, and I decided that I wanted to repay them … by supporting them at their sporting events.”

Members of the girls swimming and diving and girls basketball teams, in particular, stood up for him when other students pressured him to make poor behavioral choices in the classroom. As a result, Williams places extra emphasis on supporting both of these teams.

Senior Ellen Gilbert said she has seen Williams at many of her team’s swim meets throughout the years, but she first met him this year when he introduced himself and asked about the upcoming season at the Back to School Welcome Event in August. After the conference meet and another year of resolute support, Gilbert and the rest of the team gave Williams a thank you card.

“We never … get the biggest crowd or anything, so in the stands a lot of times it’s just our parents, so it’s really nice to have someone else there who is one of our biggest fans,” Gilbert said.

Williams said he does not limit himself to just girls basketball and swimming and diving or the major spectator sports. Instead, he tries to go to multiple sporting events every weeknight and three to four events on Saturdays, riding the same bike he used as a student to attend home contests and knowing the Pace bus schedule by heart to travel to away events.

“Unlike many other spectators who will only see a football game or a basketball game, I want to see a little bit of everything.

“I want to make sure that I attend at least one home event of every sport each season,” Williams said.

Two years ago, Williams became a member of the Booster Club and loves volunteering in concessions.

“During Relay for Life, the Booster Club donates a lot of food to that event, and … I stayed up all night and served food to participants,” Williams said.

Another one of his reasons for cheering on Spartan athletes at so many sporting events is to provide inspiration to students who have disabilities.

“I want to show the GBN community that there is a way for a former student from special ed at GBN to stay connected,” Williams said.

Walker said he feels Williams strives to display the value of learning and giving back to the GBN community.

“[He has] one foot in the autistic world and one foot in our world, and bridging those gaps is where his gift lies,” said Walker. “He’s an author. He’s a presenter. He’s a keen observer. He has nothing but joy when he walks around and is gathering his information.

“[Williams] is a way better teacher than I am. He has taught me things that make me a better human being, that make me a better teacher, that make me a better coach.”

Walker said the many people who see Williams at sporting events but do not know his story should take the time to get to know him.

“Who is James?” said Walker. “James is a person … regardless of any labels … who is so … thankful he can’t give enough.

“The more thanks you have, the more you give. Look how much James gives.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email