Jan. 9, 2018
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Watch Wednesday night as William Floyd stands tall, scampering around as the very biggest fan of Georgia Tech basketball, and you'll see that size hardly matters when it's wiser to measure the Yellow Jacket's first-ever ball boy by passion, not stature.
William, 13, plays a little hoops. Just a little, because that's all the 4-foot-11, 65-pound eighth grader from Dacula Middle School has in him.
One of just a couple hundred boys and men in the world diagnosed with Barth Syndrome, he tires easily. His weakened heart allows him to play for just a minute or so at a time in Dacula's Hebron Baptist Church League.
But he can throw basketballs back to players, hustle up water bottles and grab and distribute a towel on par with anybody -- especially when basketball is happening. Notre Dame will be in McCamish Pavilion, too, in a game televised on ESPNU and streamed on the ESPN app (7 p.m.).
"I want to be a basketball coach, or be involved. It's kind of crazy how much [time I put into to the game]; it's like somebody studying for a basketball degree," William said. "I watch a lot of TV, play video game NBA, and I remember things easily.
"When statistics come in my mind, I can remember like what stats Steph Curry or Lebron [James] have. This is going to be great. It's cool."
This game, this opportunity is borne of an e-mail that William fired first to Tech men's basketball program and operations manager Ellie Cantkier. In the message, William mentioned having met Tech student-athletes Josh Okogie, Justin Moore and Quinton Stephens last season, when his father took him to a game.
The message said in part:
"I love Georgia Tech and I love Georgia Tech basketball. I am just wondering If maybe you can get back to me, really what would be great is if I could come help the team out and meet some players and get autographs . . . "
Within one minute, Cantkier forwarded the message to head coach Josh Pastner. The subject field: "Please read."
Forty minutes after William's e-mail, the coach responded directly to him:
Good to hear from you.
Those players who you mentioned you met are really good guys. Good role models.
How can we help you cheer up?
While the desire to do something for William It has taken awhile to make this happen.
Tech had to pass NCAA muster so that William could serve as a ball boy. It must be clear that a ball boy (or girl) is not a potential recruit, and that he/she has no family members that could be considered potential recruits.
Ultimately, Pastner and Cantkier got the permission to invite William to be a part of the Jackets' efforts against the Fighting Irish on Wednesday night.
"I respond to every single e-mail that I get that's personalized to me . . . especially somebody who's been in a situation of need, especially health . . . " Pastner said. "I wanted to lend a helping hand, and [say] 'What can I do to cheer you up?'
"Maybe for two-and-a half hours on that one day, it makes him so happy [and] allows him to have pure joy."
The chance to be a ball boy is big for William. The opportunity to serve the Yellow Jackets? Perhaps priceless, because it's kind of a funny thing that he has come to be a Georgia Tech fan in the first place.
His mother, Julie, graduated from the University of Georgia, and remains an ardent fan of the Bulldogs, as does -- supposedly -- William's twin sister, Lily.
William's father, Ed, and William's 16-year-old brother, Sam, are fans of Georgia Tech's ACC rival Virginia Tech.
Then, there's Julie's brother-in-law, Paul Horton.
He's a Georgia Tech fan.
"I'm a UGA grad, so he didn't get his love of Georgia Tech from me," Julie said. "From the time he was very little, his uncle was buying him Georgia Tech gear."
So William is an agent of sorts.
"I wanted change in the family," he said. "My brother is actually a Virginia Tech fan like my dad because my grandfather went there. I always give them trouble. My sister says she's a Georgia fan, but she doesn't even know who the quarterback is."
Fatigue is life for Floyd, who was diagnosed when he was about a year old.
According to Genetics Home Reference, Barth Syndrome is a rare condition characterized by an enlarged and weakened heart (dilatedcardiomyopathy), weakness in muscles used for movement (skeletal myopathy), recurrent infections due to small numbers of white blood cells (neutropenia) and short stature. Barth Syndrome occurs almost exclusively in males.
William doesn't like the fact that his twin sister is about half a foot taller than him, yet he doesn't seem to brood.
"Yeah, it's hard walking in the doors at school and looking at kids who are 5-8, but I've learned there are opportunities . . . " he said.
William will stand plenty tall Wednesday night in McCamish Pavilion, as his mother -- who had no idea of the early e-mails going back and forth between her son, Pastner and Cantkier -- said, "He is so excited, it's unbelievable."
Pastner seems just as pumped as William, who said he loves chicken tenders and French fries, dogs, and cooking -- "grits, eggs and things like that," he said of his culinary prowess.
The coach said, "I want to make him feel like a million bucks in a sense. He'll be out there and do all the ball boy duties, and I think it will be a great evening. Sometimes, these types of things, even as good it might be good for William . . . it might be good for our players, too."