Her name is as much description as identifier, because at any point in her life, Miracle Woods might have traveled a path to despair or worse.
Instead, the Western Michigan senior is within sight of a college degree. Her name is in the school record book. She will leave Kalamazoo with the knowledge that she helped turn around a program.
“Every day for me is a miracle,” Woods said. “Everything that I accomplish is a miracle. For me to be here in college and to play basketball is a miracle. Not being somewhere in jail or pregnant in the street or working at McDonald’s. Everything in my life is a miracle.”
The young woman who has overcome so much is one of the leaders of a Western Michigan (13-8, 5-4 Mid-American Conference) team capable of contending for the league title. The second half of the Broncos’ conference season commences Wednesday with a home game versus Toledo.
“I feel like we’re playing good,” Woods said, “but not to our standards. There are things we need to improve if we’re going to get this MAC championship.”
Striving for a basketball championship is child’s play compared to what Woods endured to reach this point. She described being born to a drug-addicted mother, who named her “Miracle” because her mere birth was amazing. Her mother was killed while she was an infant, she said, in a dispute over drug money.
“When I was born,” Woods said, “I was supposed to be taken away from the family. I guess you’d call me a crack baby. It was a miracle that I was born, that I was alive, and that I was a normal, functioning child.”
Woods went to live with her grandmother, who provided love, but not the structure necessary in a tough neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Ind. She fought in school, was regularly disciplined and, she said, was labeled a bad kid. Enter a cousin, who assumed the role of mother figure. She enrolled Woods in a private Catholic school in middle school, a move that Woods said changed and probably saved her life.
About that time, Woods began to play basketball and showed promise. She was a gifted, if raw, athlete. She improved steadily at basketball and academics, and she learned that basketball could provide a college education.
Coaching changes at both Western and Eastern Michigan undercut the college paths she considered. She thought about enlisting in the Army. But new Western Michigan coach Shane Clipfell followed up, and Woods came to Kalamazoo.
“We talk about her story a lot as a team,” Clipfell said. “Not just hers, but all of the players. Each of us comes from different backgrounds. Where we grew up, who raised us, what influenced us. What Miracle has endured is different than a lot of people, but some of her teammates came from similar backgrounds.
“I think it speaks, in Miracle’s case, to the support group around her and those willing to help her. We’re all products of our environment, in some way, but you don’t have to allow that to dictate your choices and your life.”
The 6-1 Woods has progressed from a promising player who was all arms and legs and uncontrolled movement as a freshman to a more versatile, polished performer. She makes better decisions and is more effective because she plays at a better pace.
Woods, a two-time All-MAC second-team pick, is the Broncos’ top scorer (13.5 ppg). She averages 15.1 points in conference play and 19 points in Western’s seven home wins. She is ninth in career scoring at 1,400 points, with sixth place well within reach. She is fifth in career blocks (114), just two shy of third place all time.
“It’s nice having those accomplishments,” she said, “but I’d rather win than see my name in the highlights. It doesn’t matter if I don’t come out of my senior year with something to show for it, a championship or to win the tournament. I am proud of myself, but I’d be prouder if I led my team to a championship.”
Woods’ senior year hasn’t been a seamless ride. She was suspended for a violation of team rules before the season began. She did not play the first four games and came off the bench in the ensuing eight games. She finally regained a starting position and has started the past nine games.
“I was kind of embarrassed to come off the bench,” she said. “After a while, I just had to pick myself up. I started working harder in practice. I had my team behind me, supporting me the whole time.
“It definitely made me a stronger person. Being one of the team leaders, I was happy that I was able to overcome a situation and get back to being more positive.”
Said Clipfell, “She wasn’t happy coming off the bench, but she brought on the situation herself. We put some very strict conditions on her and she’s done everything we asked.”
Woods plans to enjoy the final weeks of her college career, something that she couldn’t have fathomed growing up. Regardless of how it concludes, the miracle has already occurred.
Above: The virtue of her health and her collegiate career are a miracle for Western Michigan’s Miracle Woods. (Courtesy Ashley Huss/Western Michigan Athletics)