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One last bow: Special needs students organize drive-by class for taekwondo instructor

For the past seven years, Marcus McAbee has spent every Friday night teaching a group of young adults with special needs taekwondo.

ATLANTA — Marcus McAbee should be doing what he loves tonight; what he has done every Friday night since he was 11 years old.

The high school senior has volunteered to teach a group of young adults with special needs taekwondo for the past seven years - never missing a class.

But when COVID-19 hit, the dedicated instructor had to cancel his last class with the group he's taught for so long. 

His students were not about to let him go without a final bow.

"I miss you, Marcus," said student Gavin Swalberg.

"Marcus has a way of reaching these kids. He makes it fun. He treats them respectfully, He teaches them at their own level. And he's receptive to a hug in the middle of class. He rolls with it," said Cheryl Ziegler. Her son Cameron is in Marcus' class. 

"For me, it was something that brought Zachary out of his shell. He started listening and focusing. It taught him confidence," said Susan Queen, another parent. 

"He's made a huge difference in so many lives, just be noticing kids and their possibilities and their abilities and what they can do," said Dawn Swalberg, Gavin's mom. 

People talk about Marcus McAbee's dedication -- and his sacrifice. But Marcus never saw it like that.

"I'm the most proud of it than anything else," the 18-year-old said. "All of my high school achievements, they don't add up to how happy I am to be doing that for them."

Since he was 11 years old, Marcus spent every Friday night in the studio, missing out on things most teens look forward to.

"I don't think I've ever regretted teaching a class rather than going to a football game," he said. "It was always rewarding enough to teach -- even if it's a 45-minute class. Doing taekwondo with them is so much more meaningful than anything else I could have had."

He taught at Karate Atlanta Kennesaw under Chief Master Greg Arcemont. 

Marcus is a third-degree black belt and loves to teach other people his passion. If you think it means a lot to Marcus, you should hear what it means to his students, who light up when they talk about what they have learned from him.

It's safe to say, the feeling is mutual.

"We have a student named Zachary, and every time he would do something cool, he would go, 'YEAH BABY!' And it was just so funny, all of them, I just love them all," Marcus said. 

RELATED: Real-time updates | Coronavirus in Georgia

Marcus had a special last class planned for all of them before he left for college.

He wanted to celebrate their achievements and reward them for their hard work. But when COVID-19 hit, it was all canceled.

"I was pretty upset to not see them for a while because they make me super happy," he said. 

But over the past seven years, Marcus' students have learned dedication, discipline, and honor.

"Seven years isn't that crazy," he said. 

They weren't about to just walk away.

"It makes me feel confident. That's what martial arts is all about," he said. 

So they organized a drive-by last class -- to honk, and wave, and yell 'GET BACK, JACK!' just one more time.

Credit: 11Alive
Marcus McAbee

"How long he did this, how much he sacrificed and never made it feel like a burden. He was joyful every week to see the kids. I think he looked forward to it as much as he did," he said. 

And they're all looking forward to being together again one day.

"Oh definitely! Yes, I want to see him, I miss him so much," said Gavin. 

They don't know when it will be safe to get together again, but as soon as it is, they're planning to meet up with their favorite instructor to thank him in person for all that he's done.

Marcus is headed to Clemson University in the fall and wants to study engineering and pre-med. 

His taekwondo students say if he becomes a doctor, they will be his first patients. 

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information. 

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