Ed Grisamore

Gris: Marcus gets his wings

GRAY --

For months, Marcus “Scooby” Wooten was looking for a letter that never came.

Even though he grew up a devout Georgia Bulldog, he was waiting on an acceptance letter to the “Life” program at Clemson University.

His dog Magic went with him to the mailbox every day. There were always bills, cards and circulars wanting to sell something.

But no letter postmarked Clemson, South Carolina.

He waited expectantly.

“We kept praying about it,’’ said his mother, April Wooten.

Those prayers were more heartfelt than most. This wasn’t just about a young man going to college. It was about giving him wings.

April and her husband, Terry, have three children. They all were born in 1991 and were given names that start with “M.’’ (Even the dog, Magic, is in on the act.)

The stork brought their daughter, Monique, on Groundhog Day. Six weeks later, April found out she was pregnant with twins. The timing was more of a surprise, since there are seven sets of twins in her family.

Michael and Marcus were born three months premature on Oct. 5. Michael weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces. He stayed in the hospital for 10 weeks. Marcus weighed 2 pounds, 10 ounces. He did not go home until a month after his brother.

He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 8 months old. He had respiratory issues and vision problems. Doctors told his parents he might never walk.

But he did. Nobody has been able to stop him ever since.

In school, Marcus was enrolled in special education classes. His family included him in every activity. They loved him. They challenged him.

Those challenges became more pronounced five years ago when his siblings went away to college, leaving him at home with his parents.

Monique got a softball scholarship to Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is majoring in education and history. Michael enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta to study business management.

They will both graduate in May.

Marcus remained in high school, extending his studies by taking special classes and volunteering wherever needed. He opened doors for children in the carpool lane at Gray Elementary. He monitored the halls and parking lots at the high school and was an equipment manager for the sports teams.

He also volunteered at Stone Brooke assisted living center, working with the residents, calling bingo games, doing maintenance work and planting a community garden.

As much as he filled his days, there was an emptiness, too.

One day, in the car, he spoke up. He longed to see the wider world.

“It’s time for me to go,’’ he told his mama. “I need to do something with my life.’’

April is the parent mentor for the Jones County school system. As part of the Individualized Education Program, she assists families of children with disabilities.

Through her work, she learned about Clemson “Life,” a two-year program that incorporates academics, independent living, vocational development, self-advocacy and social skills. Although similar college programs are available at nearby Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech, the Wootens settled on Clemson as the best fit for Marcus.

He applied last spring, but he did not get into the program. The Wootens knew it was competitive. They also realized the clock was ticking. After Marcus turns 24 in October, he would no longer be eligible to apply.

They were told only nine students would be accepted for the upcoming fall semester. Marcus applied again. This time, he was called for an interview.

The Wootens and two close friends made the trip with Marcus. Before they left, they prayed at the altar at Gray United Methodist Church. (They are the first African-American family to join that congregation.)

After an hourlong interview, the folks at Clemson understood why Marcus is a beloved young man in his hometown.

The Wootens were told they would hear something by February. The shortest month on the calendar came and went with no word.

Marcus waited by the mailbox.

The letter never came. Instead, the glorious news arrived with a phone call a few weeks ago. When April was notified her son had been accepted, there were so many tears of joy you would have thought a water main had busted on Railroad Street.

She told just about everybody ... except Marcus. She wanted it to be a surprise. Knowing that Gray is still somewhat of a small town -- and not everyone can keep a secret -- she sent Marcus away with his sister on spring break to Panama City Beach last week.

They returned from their trip on Saturday. In church on Sunday morning, many members of the congregation wore Clemson colors -- orange and purple.

Associate pastor Jason Wade summoned Marcus to the front to open a gift. Inside was a Clemson T-shirt.

On Palm Sunday, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

“It was a moment we wanted to share with the church,’’ April said. “They had been to the altar and prayed with us about it.’’

After the service, Marcus went with his family to lunch at Applebee’s in Macon to celebrate. He wore his Clemson hat. It was one of the greatest days of his life.

The community that has rallied behind the Wootens is going to stay behind them. A couple of local fundraisers are planned to help Marcus with college expenses. There will be a spaghetti dinner at Stone Brooke on April 24. A 5K run “Miracle for Marcus” will be held June 27 with “Team Marcus” T-shirts available for purchase. (Call 478-390-7377 for more information.)

“Sunday night, when I was in my room, I cried a little bit,’’ Marcus said. “It was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to leave the nest.’ But then I said, ‘What am I crying for?’ It’s time to experience things for myself.’’

He can leave the nest.

He now has his wings.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com

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