A Helping Hand

Former MRC patient Marcus Banks of Louisville named 2015 recipient of Ole Miss Sigma Nu Charity Bowl

By Carey Miller
Health and Research News Service

When the Ole Miss Sigma Nus chose Marcus Banks as the recipient of funds from their 2015 Charity Bowl, he was honored.

But his father Melvin knew one tiny detail should be out in the open first.

“One of the first things he said to us was, ‘Let’s go ahead and get this out front—I’m a Mississippi State fan, I graduated from State—don’t hold it against me,” said Taylor Massengill, philanthropy chairman for the March 27 event.

Marcus, 17, was paralyzed during a 2014 spring football practice while a sophomore at Louisville High School. A helmet-to-helmet collision injured his spinal cord at the C5 level.

Each year the Charity Bowl raises funds for a victim of paralysis. The event was started to honor Ole Miss football player Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed at the 1989 homecoming game versus Vanderbilt.
“We try to pick someone who has suffered a similar injury, especially if it was by playing a sport, or at least someone involved in athletics in high school or college,” Massengill said. “So it was an easy choice to help out Marcus.”

“It really means a lot to me, I’m so happy,” Marcus said of being chosen. “Out of all the people I didn’t think it would be me.”

Melvin says Marcus “couldn’t even knock a fly off his nose” after he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

After a month in the ICU, he began physical therapy at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the state’s foremost inpatient rehabilitation hospital. There, Marcus first heard about the Charity Bowl, as the 2014 recipient was another MRC patient, Stevelyn Robinson.

It was also at MRC that Marcus began to regain some of his abilities, and Melvin says he has come quite a long way since.

“After Methodist, he could move his arms a little, like a bird raising up his wings,” Melvin said. “So we just kept focusing … now he can get up in a walker and take some steps with assistance. It may not seem like much to some, but we think it’s a miracle to even be at that point.”

“When he first got here, he was a lot less able to do things than he is now,” said Arash Sepehri, care coordinator for MRC’s Navigator Program.

The Navigator Program, founded in 2014 by a grant from The Craig R. Nielsen Foundation, provides support to facilitate the transition of spinal cord injured patients from inpatient rehab to the home and community. Marcus was one of MRC’s first patients to utilize the program.

“After Marcus returned home, I helped bridge the gap for community resources to help pay for things like a new wheelchair and bathroom modifications, as well as provide education for life after spinal cord injury,” said Sepehri, who also helped connect the family with the Sigma Nus.

Now, Marcus is back at school as a junior at Louisville High, and continues physical therapy at Neshoba County Outpatient Rehabilitation Services in nearby Philadelphia. He continues to pursue his love of drawing, something he showed a talent for before his accident.

“Now he takes the pencil and puts it in between his index and ring finger, and he can still draw just as good as anybody would,” Melvin said.

“Right now, I’m taking a computer class on animation design,” Marcus said. Naturally, he hopes to attend Mississippi State after graduation.

But first he wants to get back in the driver’s seat. Marcus had earned his driver’s license barely a month before his injury.

“I’m ready to get back to the driving thing,” he said.

A specially modified vehicle that Marcus can drive on his own is one of the items on the Banks’ wish list, and it’s such expenses the Charity Bowl assists with. To date, the event has raised more than $1.6 million, and last year the Sigma Nus presented the Robinson family with a check for $75,000.

“Fundraising is looking really good for this year, too,” Massengill said.

The event begins with a cheer contest featuring Ole Miss sororities at 6 p.m., followed by the football game between Sigma Nu and this year’s opponent, Sigma Chi fraternity. At halftime, the Charity Bowl court is announced and the check will be presented to Marcus.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is traditionally the site for the event, but this year it will be held at the Oxford High School football field as the stadium is undergoing renovations.

“Some of the very first Charity Bowls were held there, so we’re going back to our roots in a sense,” Massengill said.

Marcus Banks of Louisville.

Marcus Banks of Louisville.

Marcus Banks and friends head to class at Louisville High School, where he is a junior.

Marcus Banks and friends head to class at Louisville High School, where he is a junior.