“Do you have children?”
It was a simple question posed by University of Michigan head basketball coach John Beilein, but a poignant question that sets the tone for this story.
This is a story about family and community and celebrity. A story about the loss of a boy who inspired others to bring about change. A story about hope and a deeply instilled mission that transcends sports.
“My mother used to say a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child,” Beilein said as he took a few minutes out of his busy postseason recruiting schedule. “Just think about that. When you have somebody sick or you have somebody going through something, it doesn’t make the day very easy.
“When we first heard of the diagnosis, I think anybody who has children, your heart pours out to them.”
One of nine kids raised in Burt, New York, Beilein learned the importance of giving back and helping others from a young age. His wife, Kathleen, also had an upbringing based on faith that valued putting others before herself. That common thread has helped make the Beileins a powerful force for good in Ann Arbor.
“We try to touch as many lives as we can,” Kathleen said. “It’s part of our mission, and we’ve always felt that. Giving back is a big part of who we are, and we feel we are in a position to be able to do that, so why wouldn’t we?”
Chad Carr was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) on September 23, 2014, just three days shy of his 4th birthday. Fourteen months later he passed away, but not before capturing the hearts of many around the world and spawning The ChadTough Foundation.
Chad’s story brought the local community together, said Seana Hendricks, daughter of John and Kathleen.
“It’s one of those things that you want to do everything possible, and when you live in a community that is so willing to step up for each other, it makes it easy,” Hendricks said. “I know that the Carrs would do that for us if we were in the same position.
“It’s a tragedy, but if we’re going to have to find some positives to come out of it, it’s just the sense of community and the sense of family that we have where we are.”
While many have provided support to the Carr family through The ChadTough Foundation by participating in 5K races, garage sale rallies, and fundraising events, it certainly doesn’t hurt to add some star power to the mix.
The Beileins first met Tammi and Jason Carr when they moved to Michigan in 2007. Jason’s father, longtime Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, was in his final season on the sideline and welcomed the new head basketball coach with open arms.
“One of the first people I met when I came here was Lloyd, who I had admired for a long time even though I didn’t come here until 2007,” John explained. “I admired him from afar, and so when I had a chance to meet him it was great.”
Carr taught Beilein the importance of recruiting kids who can come in and understand the culture and the importance of academics, but who are also elite athletes. Beilein credits that wisdom in part for his success on the basketball court, but it was the welcome he received from Lloyd Carr that brought him into the Carr family.
Early on, Tammi Carr would come by the basketball offices to drum up support for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. She worked in development for Michigan Medicine at the time and was raising money for the children’s hospital that she had no idea a few years later her family would need to rely on.
“She was working very hard to raise money for that,” Beilein recalled. “Chad was just a baby, and that was one of her missions, to help provide first-class healthcare for women and children by helping people fund this new hospital, which is obviously now complete.”
There are so many common threads between the Carrs and the Beileins, but where the stories of these two families intersect the most is through that one word: mission. While John describes Tammi’s work for Mott as a mission, that’s also the same word to describe the way the Beilein family views their purpose.
“I think it’s part of our mission to always give back, and I think we’ve done that in a lot of different areas since we’ve been here for a lot of different organizations,” Kathleen said.
John and Kathleen learned it from their parents and have lived it, both in teaching and in actions, for their own children and players as well.
“That’s what I love about them, just the fact that nothing has changed about them over the years,” Seana said. “This is just always who they are. They’re always looking for ways to give back. They’re always looking for ways to help. They’re always looking for ways to educate people on topics they feel passionate about.”
Former Michigan basketball captain Spike Albrecht agreed.
“Coach B is a big advocate for giving back and helping others,” Albrecht said. “He knows there’s a lot more to life than basketball and that we were all very fortunate to be student-athletes at Michigan. When it came to giving back, he led by example. Each year, we would attend multiple charity events, help out those who are less fortunate, or go see kids at Mott who were struggling, and he was always right there with us.
“The biggest thing I learned from him was that if you’re in a position to put a smile on somebody’s face or make a positive impact in their life, you should do that.”
Kathleen explained that many of the players John coaches have their own brothers and sisters, and Chad’s story made them more aware and appreciative that every day is a gift.
“A lot of these guys have been blessed with such talent and good health, but at any one time or day it can be taken, so appreciate what you have and give thanks, give back, and help others,” Kathleen said. “It’s really kind of a simple message of thinking of others before yourselves, and John has somewhat preached that in a lot of different areas. Not only in coaching but his life lessons of what he does every day.”
On May 18, John and Kathleen are serving as co-chairs of the 3rd Annual Champions for Change Gala, which will be held at Crisler Center and will showcase the impact The ChadTough Foundation has made so far in the fight against DIPG.
“He’s not ever one to put his name on something for the publicity,” Seana said about her dad. “It’s 100 percent because he believes in it, because they want to support and help family and friends. Whatever they can do, if having his name attached to something or showing that he’s signing autographs in order to support ChadTough, he wants to help.”
John credits the motto from his Jesuit education, Men to Serve Others, as the roots of his mission, but is humble about the impact he and Kathleen can make.
“They don’t need Kathleen and me to be the drawing card,” he said. “There are so many people that feel so compassionate about so many charities in this area. But if it means just a little bit, then that’s great. The big thing is to continue to not give up this fight against DIPG. Continue to work towards research to find answers.”
In 2016 and 2017, Beilein represented The ChadTough Foundation in the Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge, which encouraged fans to vote for a charity to win $100,000. Beilein and ChadTough won both years, which Beilein ascribes to “all these families, these parents of young children, going to work,” and now the Beileins hope to continue to help bring about change.
“The first gathering of ChadTough, everyone was just devastated,” Kathleen recalls. “The second one was more about this is what’s happening now, there is change coming, and don’t give up because doctors are seeing things that can make a difference. I thought that was very encouraging.
“Wanting to continue to fight this thing and make sure that it goes away, and let’s not see the moms and dads and families suffer along with their kids that are affected by it because it never goes away. Knowing that we have a chance to be a part of more change and encouraging people to continue to support… there’s a strong community that is working together to fight this monster.”
That’s why John’s question was so poignant: “Do you have children?”
“It’s terrific to be chosen to assist in any way we can,” John said of chairing the Gala. “I’ve attended the last two years, and I think it’s a great outpouring of support and community effort to raise money so that someday no parents and no child has to go through what the Carrs have experienced.”
Author: Justin Potts