Thursday, August 18, 2022

For band and basketball

Spartan Brass leader is MSU basketball team’s biggest fan

March 18, 2009

Seventeen years ago Lee Greer took his son Barry, who has Down syndrome, to the court of Breslin Center to meet Spartan Brass band director John T. Madden. Now 23, Barry still spends home games with Madden directing Spartan Brass.

For 17 years of MSU basketball games, Barry Greer has directed the Spartan Brass, jeered opponents with the Izzone, given high fives to players before games and offered coaching tips in the locker room after the buzzer. And he does it all with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes a mental disability.

When MSU faces Robert Morris on Friday in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament, Breslin Center’s jack-of-all-trades likely will be relegated to a tan leather chair in front of a TV in his south Lansing home.

Only 30 Spartan Brass musicians can play at the tournament, per NCAA rules, and Barry can’t stand to watch his band and his team from the stands.

But while Barry, 23, will be absent from the Spartans’ game in Minneapolis, those that he has touched will carry on as one of MSU’s most ardent fans watches from home.

Barry at work

If you’re connected to the MSU men’s basketball program in any way — Breslin Center security guard, former assistant coach, relative of senior forward Marquise Gray — you probably need no introduction to Barry.

If you’re watching from the crowd, Barry’s the man standing in front of the Spartan Brass every home game, tapping a foot or waving fingers to the beat of the band. He’s also jumping up and down along with students when the Spartans play defense, arms glued to his sides and back straight.

Or you might have seen him offering a high five to Spartan players as they enter the floor before the game and after halftime. It’s a ritual so entrenched in the players’ minds that senior guard Travis Walton gave Barry a playful earful when he missed the traditional hand slap against Iowa three weeks ago.

Despite the handicaps associated with Down syndrome, Barry has one thing in common with members of the MSU men’s basketball team: Breslin Center is his home away from home.

The introduction

Every person born with Down syndrome experiences different levels of impairment; Barry has a high-functioning level of Down syndrome that causes a stutter and slower cognitive processing.

When Barry was 4 years old, doctors told his father, Lee Greer, to keep him stimulated. Lee had been an MSU men’s basketball season ticket holder for eight years and thought the roar of college basketball could keep Barry excited.

For two years, Lee, who sat in the upper bowl across from the Spartan Brass, repeatedly asked Barry whether he wanted to approach the cacophony coming from the other end of the arena. In 1991, at age 6, Barry gave in.

“I had everybody sitting around us saying, ‘Go, Barry! Go see the band!’” Lee said. “I’ll never forget the day he agreed to go see the band, half our section stood up and cheered.”

Together, Lee and Barry walked down to the band and approached director John Madden.

As the director and Dad chatted off to the side, Barry made a move that would change his life.

During a rendition of “Domino,” Barry stepped up to the front of the band, pumped out his chest, put on his most serious face, lifted his arms and began his trademark conduction — index fingers directed toward the band, pointing at the blast of each beat.

A serious commitment

Each game after his first introduction, Barry and Lee would walk down to the band, a tradition that led to Barry’s position as unofficial assistant band director. He started by directing “Domino” each game, then the pregame program, then halftime, too.

By age 10, Barry had become a fixture in front of the Spartan Brass, directing alongside Madden from start to finish each home game.

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“Any kid can come to the game and get inspiration from the game, but Barry’s joy came from the music, and that’s a powerful message,” Madden said.

Since beginning his tour with the band, Barry has missed only one game, for a Special Olympics event.

Before departing from his home for Breslin Center, Barry often warms up in his bedroom — a green and white shrine to MSU basketball — by blasting a CD of songs the band will play.

And as the band implements more modern melodies each year, Barry works to keep up.

“When Barry started to create techno dances for himself, it was like, ‘Holy cow! This guy is doing his homework behind the scenes,’” Madden said. “He’s taking lessons from the band students.”

A second family

In the past decade, Barry has grown close to countless MSU basketball players, from alumni Morris Peterson and Tim Bograkos to current players senior center Goran Suton and sophomore guard Chris Allen.

His love of MSU basketball is undeniable.

In the Greer household, family members aren’t known by an age — they’re known by Spartan jersey numbers equal to their age. Barry is freshman forward Draymond Green (23), Lee will turn former Spartan Zach Randolph (50) next year and sister Kim Greer, an interdisciplinary studies in social science and human aging senior and Izzone faithful, is junior guard Isaiah Dahlman (22).

Before, during and after games, Barry is one of the team’s biggest cheerleaders.

“It’s always good to come out of the tunnel and see him directing the band or giving you a high five,” Walton said. “After the game, he’s always cheering for us or giving us advice, like telling us to play good defense.”

In return, the Spartans offer autographs — Barry’s bedroom will soon be lined with framed program covers signed by players — and unconditional support for Barry.

Bograkos once attended a Special Olympics basketball game of Barry’s at IM Sports-West — and stormed the floor when Barry hit the game-winning buzzer beater. Peterson has kept in touch with the Greers throughout his professional career.

“He loves the guys, and all the guys love him,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said of Barry. “This is his life. This is what he does, and what he’s done playing in the band, that’s cool.”

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