Posted: 7/5/2014 9:39 PM
When the telephone rang at Shawn Williams’ home Monday afternoon the caller introduced himself as Donnie Tyndall.
Barb Williams handed the phone to her husband, who spent the next five minutes chatting with Tennessee’s head basketball coach. When the call concluded, Shawn’s nurse asked, “So, who are you again?”
“I’m nobody,” Shawn replied.
“Oh, you’re somebody,” said the nurse, a knowledgeable Vol fan, “or you wouldn’t have gotten a call from Donnie Tyndall.”
Shawn Williams was somebody, all right. He might be the most devoted Vol basketball fan who ever lived. He spent hours each week scouring The Internet in search of news on prospects, then posting links on the Hoopsville message board. He read every word he could find on Big Orange hoops. He attended home games when his schedule permitted. When he couldn’t attend he watched on TV. When that option was unavailable he listened on radio. Afterward, he’d join the post-game discussion on Hoopsville. Some posters would respond to a disappointing loss by blaming the coach or a player. Not Shawn. Posting as “bullsgapvol,” he loved Tennessee basketball too much to find any fault with any aspect of it.
Shawn loved life, too. That’s why he was devastated on May 1, 2013, when doctors discovered tumors in his brain. Upon learning that Tennessee’s most devoted fan was facing a fight for his life, Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin sent Shawn Williams some words of encouragement in a get-well card. Shawn was touched by the gesture from Martin, himself a cancer survivor.
Last fall was a rocky one for Martin, who struggled to get his underachieving team on track. It was an equally difficult fall for Williams, who struggled through chemo and radiation treatments while worrying that the tumors were continuing to grow. Upon hearing this news, Martin and Tennessee’s players autographed a souvenir basketball for Shawn Williams.
Fortunately, there are bright spots even in the darkest times. Cuonzo Martin and Shawn Williams shared one on Dec. 30. Shawn’s sister and brother-in-law transported him to Thompson-Boling Arena, where he sat in a wheelchair near courtside for the Vols’ home game with a Virginia team destined to make the NCAA Elite Eight. It was Tennessee that looked like the Elite Eight team on this night, however, hammering the Cavaliers 87-52.
I’m blessed to say that I developed an Internet friendship with Shawn through the Hoopsville message board. We were surprised to learn that our homes are nine miles apart – his in tiny Bulls Gap and mine in equally tiny Mosheim. Since InsideTennessee wasn’t sending me to College Station to cover the Vols-Texas A&M game on Feb. 22, I asked Shawn if I could watch the telecast at his home. He agreed.
The first thing I noticed when I walked through Shawn’s front door was that souvenir basketball signed by the Vols, prominently displayed in a glass case, resting on his kitchen counter. It was facing the front door, so it would be among the first things visitors saw upon entering his house. Seeing how much the Vols’ kind gesture had meant to him brought a lump to my throat.
The second thing I noticed upon entering Shawn’s home was his attire. He wore a Vol sweatshirt, with an orange and white lap blanket wrapped around him for warmth. Even facing his own mortality, he was surprisingly positive … except toward the officials. At one point late in the game he turned to me and said, “Those officials haven’t given us one call all day.”
When A&M won the game Shawn was disappointed but not discouraged. Apparently, fighting for your life sharpens a person’s perspective on just how trivial the outcome of a sporting event is in the grand scheme of things.
No one was more thrilled by Tennessee’s surprising run to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 than Shawn, whose emails to me were filled with excitement and optimism. And no one was more thrilled when Tyndall signed eight newcomers this spring in hopes of assembling another NCAA Tournament team for 2014-15.
I called Shawn from Catholic High School nearly two weeks ago to tell him one of those Vol newcomers, Kevin Punter, had scored 54 points in a Rocky Top League game. Getting no answer, I left a voice mail. The next day I got a text message from Shawn, telling me he had begun hospice care.
When Barb felt Shawn was up to a visit, I drove to his home last Saturday, not knowing what to expect or what to say to a man with no hope of recovery. I can tell you this: There was no pity party. Shawn admitted that he “asked God to take me home” when the pain peaked but insisted that stage was behind him. Though weak and somewhat subdued, he asked me how the new Vols were looking in the Rocky Top League and if the Big Orange is close to signing a big man for 2015.
Word of Shawn’s failing health quickly made its way to Tyndall, who called a man he would never meet to talk Vol basketball for a few wonderful minutes on Monday afternoon.
Tyndall’s act of kindness came just in time. Shawn’s condition deteriorated to the point that he was barely responsive on Tuesday. He spent Wednesday on morphine in intense pain before dying peacefully in his sleep Thursday morning. He was 53 years old. He is survived by Barb, two sons and a daughter.
Visitation is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Monday at First Christian Church of Morristown, with the funeral service to follow. Shawn’s body will be laid to rest wearing black pants, a white shirt and a bold orange tie.
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Last edited 7/5/2014 10:08 PM by Glenstorm
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utfan620 wrote: As someone who never met, but had many conversations with Shawn on here and through email I really appreciate your post. Thank you.Is there anything donation wise available that we can give for his family or a charity?
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