Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My new favorite Gannon player: Malcom Woodbury

Malcom Woodbury may have only scored a handful of points in his college basketball career, but he scored some major points for a former high school classmate recently. Read the story below for details. For photos from the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, click here. Thanks to perennial GU season-ticket holder Paul DeSante for the heads up on this article.

Granby grad returns to keep prom-night promise

By Jaedda Armstrong, The Virginian-Pilot © May 24, 2010

Malcolm Woodbury sat at a table dressed in a black tux as he watched other prom goers boogie. He turned to his prom date, Sharonda Lebray, who sat beside him clad in a teal cocktail dress, cupped her chin in his hand, gazed into her eyes and asked, "Wanna dance?"

Malcolm is a 21-year-old college student who could have been anywhere that night. But he was at the Harrison Opera House for Granby High School's prom. He flew from Pennsylvania to be Sharonda's date. If he hadn't, he said, Sharonda probably wouldn't have attended.

They met four years ago, when he was a junior at Granby. He was a popular basketball player, a self-proclaimed ladies man. And Sharonda, 22, has cerebral palsy, a muscle disorder caused by brain damage. She can walk and eat on her own, but can't speak. He decided to join the Physical Education Leadership Training (PELT) class, which pairs students with disabled classmates.

Nervous at first, his concerns faded as he started interacting with the students. After playing bean bag toss and other games with Sharonda, he realized that she wasn't much different from other girls. She likes her hair and clothes, and sometimes she even has an attitude, he said.

He decided to take her to his prom in 2007. He remembers how his classmates were stunned to see him, a guy who had a list of possible dates, enter the ballroom with Sharonda on his arm.

"I just wanted her to have the chance to be out there with the rest of the school, and be as beautiful as she was that night," said Malcolm, a junior communications major at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. "It made people realize that I'm not as shallow as they perceive athletes to be."

That night he promised he'd come back to take Sharonda to her prom. When he'd be home from college, Malcolm made sure to stop by Granby to see his former teachers, and check on Sharonda, who would start to cry when she spotted him. "It's extremely humbling," Malcolm said. "She can't talk, but the tears rolling down her face and the noise she makes tells me that she's happy."

Sharonda requires constant assistance from an aide, Deborah Shuler, who holds Sharonda's arm when she walks. Sharonda can't go far and is easily distracted. When she gets tired of walking, she'll abruptly sit on the floor or in a chair and refuse to budge. Her movements are rough, her hands shake and she has seizures daily. "We know she may not ever have a boyfriend or get married, so this is her magical night," Shuler said.

At her prom, Sharonda gazed at the bright lights as Malcolm nodded his head to the music. They got up to dance as Malcolm walked her to the floor. He wrapped his arms around her waist. When they sat back down, he held her hand and whispered into her ear. Sharonda smiled hard as if he was telling her a juicy secret. By 10:30, Sharonda was tired. The night ended with them taking pictures.

It was bittersweet, Malcolm said. He was happy that he could take Sharonda to the prom, but she's graduating and his family has moved to Atlanta. He won't have a reason to come back to Granby High. He still plans to call and check up on her. And maybe visit every now and then. Sharonda's prom was perhaps as important to him as to her, he believes.

"If I was to just graduate and leave and never come back, that wouldn't have been right," he said. "I didn't want it to just be a moment."


  1. Absolutely awesome!

    "Is this the kind of player (Coach) Reilly is recruiting now?" - YES, this is exactly the type of player that Coach Reilly recruits.

  2. This must be Chinese for "When's the next blog post? It's been over two weeks."