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The Driver's Seat: Husband of Terps coach is 'unsung hero' as father to twins

College SportsColleges and UniversitiesMaryland TerrapinsLeukemiaBrenda FreseDuke Blue Devils

Tyler Joseph Thomas will turn 4 years old Friday, Feb. 17. But perhaps a bigger event will take place at some point in the fall of 2015.

"When we hit that milestone we will throw a big party," said North Laurel resident Brenda Frese, the mother of Tyler and his twin brother, Markus William Thomas. Frese is the head women's basketball coach of the No. 8-ranked University of Maryland Terrapins. Her husband and the father of Tyler and Markus is Mark Thomas, a 1988 graduate of Laurel High and member of the school's state title-winning football team of 1987.

That unknown day in the future that Frese points to will be, if all goes well, when about five years has passed since Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia in late September 2010. He will complete 3 1/2 years of treatment and then doctors will wait about 18 months (for a total of five years) to see if the leukemia returns, according to Thomas.

"For the most part he is like a normal 3-year-old boy," Thomas said. "He goes to preschool Monday through Friday with his brother. If you watched him, most likely you would not think anything is wrong. He gets meds every day … and they do have side effects.

"The beauty with kids is they just want to be kids," Thomas said. "He just wants to play. He has a depleted immune system because of chemotherapy. A fever may mean an emergency room visit."

And an 11-day stay at Johns Hopkins is exactly what happened last month for Tyler, his first extended stay in the hospital since he was diagnosed. But he returned home, where he loves to play with and watch anything car-related, such as the Disney movie "Cars."

Frese calls Thomas "the backbone of our family and the unsung hero in all of this in terms of how selflessly he was to give up his career and go into daddy mode and stay at home."

Frese, who grew up in Iowa and is a graduate of the University of Arizona, became the head coach at Maryland prior to the 2002-03 season after one year at the University of Minnesota.

Thomas was an Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster/producer who worked several years in the Washington television market. He was the writer, producer and reporter for "The Washington Post High School Sports Show" that aired on Comcast SportsNet for about six years, through 2004.

Thomas interviewed Frese regularly in 2004 for a show, "Under The Shell," about her team. They were married Aug. 20, 2005 and Frese led the Terps to the national championship in 2006.

"Mark is just phenomenal in terms of what he has to take on," Frese said. "He is juggling twins and a son that has leukemia. Our days are pretty intense. He is married to a coach that travels a ton, with the team and for recruiting," said Frese, whose Terps (20-3) host ACC rival and No. 5-ranked Duke (19-3) Sunday, Feb. 19 at 3 p.m.

"My dream was not to be Mr. Mom," Thomas said. "It is definitely an adjustment. That being said, the time you can spend with your children is wonderful. With Brenda's schedule it would be difficult for me to have a regular 9-to-5 job. I would like to (return to work) one day, perhaps when the boys get older."

It should be noted there are many fathers who are the main care givers to their children. And Frese's generous salary certainly allows the family options that others may not be able to afford. It may be a cliché, but all the money in the world does not guarantee healthy children.

At the very least, Thomas has a better grasp of most about what it is like to be a coach.

"I am a big fan of what my wife does. I feel like my life's work (in sports broadcasting) prepared me to be her husband," he said.

David Driver is the former Laurel Leader sports editor. Contact him at http://www.davidsdriver.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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