Life can work in mysterious ways. Just ask Brian Williams.
A high school junior at West Side Academy in Detroit and a member of Mumford’s swim team, Williams said a near catastrophe as a child at a Port Huron beach led him down a competitive swimming path.
“I went out too far and started drowning,” Williams, 17, said this week. “My mom came out and got me back onto the shore. Soon after that, she took me to Adams Butzel (Recreation Center), and I’ve been swimming there ever since.”
Twelve years later, Williams is one of the top high school swimmers in Detroit. He’s also an accomplished club swimmer for the Adams Butzel All-Stars, an affiliate of the Detroit Recreation Swim Team of USA Swimming.
Williams, who was home-schooled before becoming a student at West Side Academy this year, joined Mumford’s swim team since his school doesn’t have one. Mumford, which has only two other swimmers on its team, is Williams’ school of residency.
Now a Detroit Public School League athlete, he’s eager to put the PSL and Mumford on the proverbial swimming map.
“It means a lot, because not many PSL swimmers have done what I’m doing,” said the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Williams. “There’s a lot riding on me.”
He already has qualified for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state meet in the 100-yard breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley. He can compete in only two individual events at the state meet March 10-11 at the Holland Aquatic Center, so he’s focusing on the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM.
His personal-best time of 59.99 seconds in the 100 breaststroke makes Williams optimistic he can challenge for a top-eight finish — and maybe even a state championship — in the event. He boasts personal bests of 2:03.30 in the 200 IM and 54.39 in the 100 backstroke.
“If we taper right and everything goes perfect, I can hopefully get top four,” Williams said of his chances in the breaststroke. “Me and my coach (Javon Waters) have shocked ourselves before.”
Regardless of his state finish in March, simply qualifying in multiple events is a notable achievement.
According to Lawrence Williams, Brian’s father, the most recent African-American PSL boys swimmer to qualify for numerous state events was Detroit Henry Ford’s Dee McCoy, who swam the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle at the 2009 Division 1 finals.
“If it hadn’t been for the city of Detroit, Brian probably wouldn’t have been a swimmer,” Lawrence Williams said. “He nearly drowned (in Port Huron), and out of that experience someone suggested the Red Cross swim program at the Rec Center. That’s where he learned to swim, and from there, he became a swimmer.”
Brian Williams won’t be content even with a strong showing at the MHSAA finals. He competes in club swimming throughout the year and is close to reaching national cut times for some prominent USA Swimming events. Making the Olympic trials tops his list of goals.
“People tell me all the time that I’m going to the Olympics,” Williams said. “But with my times right now, I don’t have a chance. Maybe down the road, if I keep working hard. Some people work their whole lives to make the Olympic trials.”
Putting future goals aside, Williams still has important high school meets ahead.
He won the 100 breaststroke (1:02.50) and 200 IM (2:04.50) at Wednesday’s PSL preliminaries, advancing to the league championships next Wednesday at Western International High.
He also plans to compete at the Michigan Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association meet beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at Eastern Michigan’s Michael H. Jones Natatorium.
Although the PSL is best known for football and basketball, Williams hopes swimming becomes an option for more Detroit youths.
“Swimming just isn’t very popular,” he said. “People only start paying attention when it comes on TV every four years. I wish people paid more attention to it, like they do with football and basketball. I really wish the sport was more popular.”
Williams plans to encourage young Detroiters to give swimming a shot.
“The kids that do swim and want to be great, I try to support them,” he said. “Swimming has been a huge part of my life, and it’s truly been an enjoyable experience.”