WOLSEY — Damien McGhee can remember when his younger brother was adopted.
“I was five or six years old, and I remember the adoption agency came to get him,” Damien recalled. “I’ll admit that I forgot about him a bit, but then we started getting pictures.”
Damien’s brother Marty was adopted by Steve and Kris Gohn of Huron, and the Gohns wanted to keep the adoption open, hence the pictures and information about Marty as he grew up that they sent back to Damien and his family to keep them updated.
“We told Marty about his family, but it was when Damien began playing college football that Marty began to really take an interest in getting to know Damien better,” Kris explained.
Damien began his college football career at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, a Division I school in the Football Championship Subdivision. He later transferred to Florida Institute of Technology, or Florida Tech, a Division II school. McGhee scored 10 touchdowns in his two seasons with Florida Tech, but most importantly, Marty was able to see him play in 2019.
“Coach (Gordon) Hooks doesn’t really like the guys missing practice, but we worked it out to take a weekend to go see a game,” said Kris. “Marty was able to meet not just Damien, but two other siblings as well on that trip.”
Since the visit, the two brothers have been keeping in touch. “We’ll talk often through text, but at least weekly we have a FaceTime chat,” Damien commented. “I prefer to see someone’s face when talking rather than just type.”
That connection continued through the school year as Marty experienced his sophomore year at Wolsey-Wessington and Damien completed his senior year at Florida Tech. Then, the pandemic hit.
“I was doing some potential NFL draft prep stuff, hoping I could at least catch on with a team,” said Damien. “Then everything changed.”
The contacts through video call continued, however, and in June, Damien came to South Dakota to visit the Gohns.
He was interested in experiencing the cultural differences between his life in Jacksonville, Florida, and the life Marty and Payson Gohn were living in South Dakota. He found the pace different, but definitely enjoyable.
“I could definitely see the differences, but I thought it was good meeting with Coach Hooks and Coach (Ralph) Newton to discuss their lives in the area,” Damien remarked. “The boys have great role models here and a great family atmosphere in this community.”
While they had been separated for 16 years, Marty’s brother Payson immediately noticed the genetic connection between the brothers, mentioning that their mannerisms were very similar.
Damien took both boys under his wing while visiting, working out with the Warbirds team, and talking with Marty and Payson at home about many different topics.
“His visit was just after the George Floyd murder in Minnesota, so to have a young, well-spoken black man to mentor the boys was excellent,” Steve Gohn mentioned. “He offers a perspective that we simply cannot offer.”
Kris agreed: “When Damien left, we found a list for the boys of movies and books for them to look into, and he’s actually been a ‘big brother’ about that list, checking in to see which ones they’ve read or watched on that list.”
Damien’s surprise visit to see Marty Friday comes after he gave a talk on Thursday evening at Sioux Valley High School in Volga. “I focus on a family-oriented foundation, but I’ll also be talking on unity and goal-setting,” Damien said.
Marty would like to keep the connection with his brother wherever his speaking career may take him. “I just want to keep in touch going forward,” Marty said.
Kris expressed that Damien’s become another part of their family. “Many people discuss their family tree. We view our family as more of a family orchard!”