Younger brother is best friend, inspiration to Chartiers Valley assistant baseball coach

Sunday, July 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Brett Willner is a young assistant baseball coach at Chartiers Valley after an impressive playing career at South Fayette.

Having connections to both southern rivals is appropriate because he possesses both the smoothness of a galloping colt and the heart of a lion.

Willner recently concluded his third year as an assistant varsity coach at Chartiers Valley under Curt Cairns.

“Brett is a workhorse,” Cairns said. “He can coach almost any position on the field. He is a guy that you can count on to be there every day and to bring his A game. He is very knowledgeable about the game.”

It is a game that Willner truly loves. However, that love takes a backseat to family.

The 26-year old is the older of Jeff and Joy Willner’s two sons. Brett’s younger brother Garrett has autism.

“He has come a long way, and I’m very proud to call him my brother,” Willner said. “He has inspired me in many different ways, including becoming a teacher.”

Willner is a full-time building sub at Chartiers Valley Middle School after earning a degree as an intervention specialist for special education at Mount Union University.

“When he was younger, it was difficult to get many words out of him,” Willner said of his brother. “But, through the help of so many people, he is now very socially interactive and the nicest person to everyone he encounters. I give a ton of credit to my parents, therapists that have worked with him and schoolteachers who have helped shape the great young man he is today.”

Brett deserves some credit as well, leading the way for his brother as a positive role model.

“It is truly a special relationship,” Cairns said. “Brett and Garrett are very close. Garrett is very social with all of the players and coaches. Brett is Garrett’s biggest supporter.”

It works both ways for these brothers. During his playing days, Garrett was always there at Brett’s scholastic baseball and basketball games.

Garrett also has a love for playing sports. He plays in the Miracle League of the South Hills founded by Sean Casey. It allows all kids to have fun and play the game of baseball.

“I definitely encourage everyone to come watch a game and support the players,” Willner said. “I see the bigger picture when I think of Garrett. He is my best friend in life and the best brother I could have ever asked for. When I think I am having a bad day or feeling down, his presence instantly lifts my spirits.

“Another reward growing up with Garrett is the motivation he has given me to be the best brother and best person I can be on a daily basis. To see how hard he works every day, with how far he has come, just motivates me to be the best I can be as well.”

Brett loves how Garrett has bonded with the South Fayette community. South Fayette football coach Joe Rossi has Garrett help out during Lions practices and he’s on the field on game days.

Growing up with a sibling with autism can be challenging, and certain traits are needed, some of which have helped Willner on the athletic fields, first as a player and now as a coach.

“I definitely see the patience needed in everyday life as a coach,” Willner said. “I see how it is important to focus more on the positives rather than the negatives. Certainly, there are times where frustration occurs over little things during the games or practices, but at the same time, it is a teaching moment with these kids with the overall goal of them improving each day.

“I try to combine my career as a teacher with coaching because at the end of the day, my goal is to teach the game to our players and help them develop into great players along the way. Patience is a big aspect in coaching high school baseball because you are not just trying to teach the game of baseball. More importantly, you are trying to develop positive relationships with the players.”

Willner has aspirations to be a great teacher and a head baseball coach someday.

“Brett definitely has the demeanor and skill sets for becoming a great head coach,” Cairns said. “That being said, I like him with us.”

No matter where his career takes him, big brother will always have an eye out for younger brother.

“If I could tell people that do not know Garrett personally one thing, it would be this, never look at the disability. Rather, look at all of his abilities,” Willner said. “Once you get to know Garrett, you will truly find what a wonderful, talented young man he is. I want G to be as independent as he possibly can be, but at the same time, I want him to know he always has me to help him out in life. We are brothers, and I know we will continue to be close. I would not trade Garrett for the world.”


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