University City

Beloved Charlotte tennis coach returns after stroke

Just like every other day, March 8 was supposed to culminate with an afternoon full of tennis for William Brown.

In the morning, the much-beloved Sugaw Creek Junior Tennis Academy coach had some errands to run. In the afternoon, Brown was going to catch a Harding University High boys tennis home match, then lead some of his youth players through an evening workout at the University City-area park.

Brown thought he was going to be evaluating strokes that day, but not the kind that put him in the hospital. A blood clot at the base of his brain initiated a stroke that led to a four-day stay at Carolinas Medical Center–Main.

Three weeks ago, Brown triumphantly returned to Sugaw Creek Park to direct his youth and adult tennis programs after a three-month absence and recovery. On June 13, his doctor gave him clearance to step back on the court to “do what I normally do.”

“I said, ‘I think I’m ready to do it,’” said Brown. “I’m not going to try to overdo it. I’m just going to pace myself.”

A limp stemming from weakness in his right knee is the only lingering effect of the stroke. Two months from his 60th birthday, Brown has been coaching tennis for 25 years and has no plans to stop.

For the time being, he’s doing much of his coaching from a picnic table that rests in an elevated wooded area beside the Sugaw Creek Park courts. He gives direction to a couple of assistant coaches, but in cooler weather Brown may step onto the hard surface for hands-on instruction.

Brown is in good physical condition, but he did have a previous scare about 15 years ago, when he suffered a heart attack while playing in a tennis match in Charleston, S.C.

“I threw the ball up to serve, and I kept falling back,” said Brown. “I thought I was healthy. The doctor told me I (suffered) sudden death.”

It took Brown six months to return to tennis after that episode. He hasn’t had any major health issues since then, and before the stroke he hadn’t experienced any warning signs or threats that his circulatory system was at risk.

Brown’s sister, Shelby Perkins, was the first to recognize that something might be wrong. On the morning of March 8, Perkins spoke with Brown on the phone and noticed that his speech was slurred.

Perkins summoned their brother Danny Brown to visit William at his home. Danny determined that William needed to go to the hospital.

That day, friends say, more than 100 people visited Brown in the hospital. One of them was Toddric Thomas, who drives his daughters, Taniyah, 11, and Tanashia, 16, from the Steele Creek area to take lessons from Brown.

“He makes me feel safe, and it’s fun,” said Taniyah. “I’ve known him my whole life. He’s like another parent to me, and a friend. He’s not just a tennis coach.”

Because the stroke affected the right side of his body, Brown lost the ability to write his name and drive a car for a couple of weeks. His brothers and sisters helped him prepare meals at home.

In mid-April, friends and family hosted a “Recognition and Recovery Reception” in honor of Brown at the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center. About 130 people showed up to wish him well.

Supporters are collecting donations to help Brown pay his medical bills. If his comeback were a tennis match, the score would be “Advantage Brown.”