Modern Family

April 15, 2014

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - Some athletes play for the love of the game. Others for glory. Still others play because of a competitive spirit, ambition or the dream of having their very own professional baseball card one day.

UCF junior baseball player JoMarcos Woods plays in part for all of those things, but more so for the two women in the stands who show up without fail to cheer for him every weekend when the Knights are playing at home.

Eight years ago, JoMarcos' life changed when he and his mother, Marta, took in his cousin's infant daughter, Destiny, to raise as his younger sister. The decision has brought things full circle for the Woods family.

"Growing up, my mom didn't get a chance to see me play much. Not as much as I wanted her to be there," JoMarcos said. "It really means a lot to me that she can come out and see me, especially with my little sister."

In 1993, JoMarcos was 6 months old when police came to his family's apartment to arrest his father, Charles, on robbery charges. After he was sentenced and sent to jail, Marta was left to support JoMarcos and his two older brothers on her own.

She worked for Disney back then, pulling 12-hour shifts until 5 p.m. She would go home to see and feed her children, leave them with a babysitter and head to her second job at McDonald's until she punched out at 1 or 2 a.m., which left her with just enough time to sneak in a few hours of sleep before repeating the cycle.

"I got through day by day. I had no choice," she said.

When he turned 5 years old, JoMarcos picked up baseball alongside his older brother, C.J. It provided a constructive activity for the brothers to enjoy while their mother was still clocking long hours.

As time passed, baseball became more demanding. Marta's work often conflicted with JoMarcos' practice and game schedules, making it difficult to find a way to get him to the ballpark. She could also see that without his father in his life, her son was in need of guidance.

When he was in sixth grade, they came to a decision. He would move in permanently with the family of his baseball coach, Joe Renda.

"I missed him and he missed me, but it was something that I needed for him to do," Marta said. "He was the youngest one, and I knew Joe Renda was strict and he understood JoMarcos. We decided it was going to be a good choice for him."

With four children of their own, Joe and his wife, Rosie, had never taken in another child before, and they haven't since. But they could see the Woods family needed help and echoed Marta's concerns about JoMarcos' need for direction.

"He has a love for the game. We know how hard it is in baseball, and he was very talented back then. We just wanted to give him an opportunity," Rosie said. "He's just like one of our kids. Jojo has a great heart. He's got a great personality. If I had to turn back the channels, I would do it all over again."

JoMarcos quickly became a part of the family, especially with the Rendas' son T.J., who grew to be his best friend. They stressed the importance of success in school, as well as on the diamond. If he struggled, their daughter would tutor him.

"Baseball is great, but education is going to get him through life," Joe said. "We always pushed the education part. What I'm most glad about is that he's not going to be one of these kids that ends up as a statistic."

In 10th grade, JoMarcos' life shifted again when he returned to his mother's home to help her raise Destiny.

Marta's niece gave birth to a baby girl in 2006 and planned to give her up for adoption. After consulting with her sons, Marta asked her niece if Destiny could live with her instead. Although Marta has a daughter of her own, she was not able to raise Denissa, who grew up under her grandmother's watch.

"Because I was not able to raise my daughter, I wanted a girl so badly even though I always told the boys, `I don't want anybody younger than JoMarcos,'" said Marta, who is now 56 years old. "When she came, it's like she changed everybody. I think [their bond] is the most amazing thing."

JoMarcos noticeably lights up when he talks about his younger sister. She is often in the stands at his games and insists to the UCF staff that she be the one to pen his name in the lineup on the Dry-Erase board that hangs on the outside wall of the press box for fans to see.

She craves to be by his side whenever he visits his mother's house. And like the good big brother that he is, the 20-year-old outfielder will even agree to play Barbies with her.

"I have to. I try to stay away from the camera so no one will take pictures," he shrugged with a smile. "She really looks up to me. When I'm around her, it's always, `Jojo, Jojo, Jojo,' which makes me feel good. She's really energetic. She's always happy, always smiling. My mom has been doing a great job raising her and taking care of her."

JoMarcos tries to be an example for her in the way that Joe Renda and UCF head coach Terry Rooney now are for him.

As a 12-year-old, JoMarcos dreamed of playing for the Knights after attending a baseball camp on campus. Now in his third season, he has been a starter every year and hasn't taken a moment of it - or the people who have helped him get here - for granted.

While he may not have had a "traditional" childhood, JoMarcos always knew he could count on his mother. The lessons he learned from her will continue to have an impact on his life for years to come.

"Being on my own now, sometimes I don't have money or am stressing, and my mom has done it her whole life," he said. "She's one of the strongest people I know. I want to do all I can take care of her so she can retire and take a vacation for once and just sit back. It's unbelievable how she did it, and I love her even more just because of what she did for us."



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