The Silent 6th Man: How one student’s struggle inspires an entire team

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s a story of inspiration, compassion, and motivation. A young man is motivating an entire team to face any challenge.

He’s Blackman High School basketball’s biggest fan, but a debilitating disease took his voice and most of his motor skills.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

But he doesn’t have to say a word; he’s still inspiring the team in more ways than one.

Even in the time of excitement, life has its way of bringing you challenges, some more difficult than others.

“He’s really made us aware of what a real challenge in life is to go through,” said Coach Barry Wortman.

The Blackman High boys’ basketball team, so far, is having a perfect season, making it to state and taking over the Glass House.

It’s not always about the loudest fans. That’s because Blackman’s biggest fan roots for them in silence.

“He’s definitely our sixth man,” Wortman said.

“If we had no students, no crowd, as long as we can see Julian there supporting us, cause we know he’s in pain, and he’s there supporting us,” player Jacob Nelson told News 2.

This is the story of Julian Williams.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

Julian went from being a healthy teenager loving the game of basketball to facing the biggest of challenge of his life.

“He developed what’s call PKAN. It’s a neurological disease, is my understanding of it, and iron starts settling on your brain,” assistant principal John Strickland said.

Julian is confined to a wheelchair, but once a week, Julian makes a quarter of a mile trek to visit the team. Each step is just as painful as the last.

“It teaches our kids that life is one step at a time,” Strickland said.

The team has also inspired him.

“His toughness, his character, his grit, and his want to, has inspired and impacted in so many ways,” Wortman said. “With Julian’s impact on our program, I think we got a lot of things in perspective about what we’re going through in basketball and what it means to us.”

But he’s done even more for them.

“He’s so tough and he pushes us every day to go the extra mile,” player Jarrell Reeves said. “It’s a breath of fresh air just seeing him, his smile and the passion he has for the game.”

(Photo: WKRN)

The team’s goal this year is to bring home another state championship, not just for the team, but for Julian.

“I hope that we can finish it out the right way and bring a gold ball back to Blackman and more importantly to Julian,” Nelson said.

The team knows the challenge that lies ahead on the court; it’s nothing compared to the everyday challenge Julian faces.

“He’s just had an unbelievable impact on our lives beyond basketball. This is a story bigger than basketball,” Strickland said.

The Blaze defeated Science Hill Wednesday afternoon 57-34 to advance in the Division 1 AAA state tournament.


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