Band of brothers
'Warriors' group aims for guidance, not goals
Rocky Marrin spent 30 years of his life on a spending spree. Now he's on a mission not only to return the goods, but to help others avoid his buyer's remorse.
"I was buying what the world was selling," Marrin said of the three-decade period when his world revolved around climbing the corporate ladder, owning a nice home and cars, and seeking enjoyment in "drinking buddies, golf, sports, and women."
Yes, he went to church once a week, Marrin said; but all he had to show at the end of those 30 years was "a broken marriage, hurt and angry children, and a ton of confusion in every other area of my life."
In February 2010, after eight years in a men's Bible study, Marrin's prayers about a group that would help others avoid his mistakes evolved into a vision, and he founded White Hot Ministries. The fledgling organization works with both adult men and high school seniors in weekly study sessions in which members, using scripture as a guide, discuss feelings such as insecurity, pride, and fear, and topics such as addictions, dating and marriage.
On May 5, several Deep Run High School seniors attended the GodStrong Men spring breakfast at The Place at Innsbrook, and testified to the impact that their study group, known as the Varsity Warriors, has had on their lives.
Nothing to show for it
At the breakfast, the students heard from Pastor Calvin Duncan, who played basketball for Virginia Commonwealth University and later passed up a promising career in the NBA to join Athletes in Action, a Christian traveling team and sports ministry.
Now the pastor at Faith & Family Church in Richmond, Duncan told the crowd at the breakfast that if not for a woman on Grace Street who shared the gospel with him while he was at VCU, he might have chosen a different path.
Raised by an aunt with a sixth grade education after his mother died in childbirth, Duncan called himself a "typical inner city kid. I loved basketball; I didn't value education." In his junior year of high school, he dated a girl whose mother was a drug dealer, so he was always around gangsters and drugs.
But his aunt made him go to church, and basketball got him out of the inner city (although after a placement test pegged him at a fourth grade reading level, he had to detour to Oak Hill Academy on his way to VCU).
Duncan told the audience that he has never regretted his decision to pass up the pros, and quoted an observer who said, "Calvin turned out better than all these guys who played in the NBA, made millions of dollars, and have nothing to show for it."
"The Lord is our coach," Duncan told the crowd, comparing the Bible to the play books he once used in basketball. "You have to know the plays if you want to be successful in the game of life.
"I once was recruited to play basketball. Now I recruit sinners to be saved."
Duncan was one of many speakers who have inspired the DRHS students at group get-togethers throughout the year, said Tom Bostwick, citing among other favorites Buddy Childress of Needle's Eye Ministries and Bill Janis, former Virginia delegate.
"I really look forward to [the weekly meetings]," said Bostwick. "The fellowship together, sharing problems, and having people help you with it."
"It's awesome to hear the different ways people come to God, and the different paths they take," said Colin Bennett, one of the students who helped Marrin recruit seniors for the study group. "They've all had different journeys, but they're all on the same path now."
Like Marrin, and his classmate Max Huntley, Bennett is a member at Shady Grove United Methodist Church. So once Marrin's plan for Varsity Warriors had taken shape, he was quick to approach Bennett and Huntley for help with recruitment.
"You don't find a lot of guys 17 or 18 years old who are willing to step out and share their faith," Marrin told the crowd at the breakfast, adding that he originally hoped for 12 students to sign on, and perhaps eight to attend regularly.
But some 16 seniors, on average, have attended the meetings at Marrin's home -- and are now recruiting juniors to form next year's group. Although all are students at DRHS, they hail from seven different churches.
The men also take turns leading the weekly lesson and "wrapping Scripture around it," said Marrin. "I haven't led a lesson since the second week in December."
Although all of the Varsity Warriors attend the same high school, they vary greatly in their interests and activities outside of the group.
Bostwick plays lacrosse and will head to DePaul in the fall to study history. Tyler Howell works at Chick-Fil-A and will study business at James Madison University. Jason Puckett, a basketball player, will study business at Virginia Tech, and Bennett, who works at Chick-Fil-A, will attend University of Maryland. A member of the golf team, Huntley works at Daylight Donuts and will major in global affairs at George Mason University.
But all of the seniors agree on one thing: Varsity Warriors has brought them closer, and has helped prepare them to make better choices in life.
"As we're maturing, we're learning," said Jacob Butler. "It's a good combination to make good decisions."
"I feel like I take time to think before I do things, and I pray over things more," agreed Howell, adding that he feels "refreshed" after leaving Varsity Warriors meetings. "It's a support system."
"It's helped me with stress, and school work, and managing time," said Brooks Ohman. "And it's helped me grow very close to my friends."
As Huntley pointed out, "We were all friends before, but we've gotten closer friends, through God and religion."
Studying scripture together builds tighter bonds than those of a typical friendship, agreed Bennett. "When you come together through Christ, it's not a superficial growth," he said. "It's more roots-up --- a stronger, sturdy growth."
Although Marrin has already looked into establishing Varsity Warrior groups in other high schools and cities, and many of the students plan to form groups at their colleges, his vision for the organization is considerably more ambitious.
"We want to take this," he told the breakfast audience, "to every high school in the country."
Marrin and his wife, Leslie (who cooks for the senior men and talks to them about prom night and dating topics), also hope to expand the groups to include women. Leslie is organizing a senior girls study group, and the couple is actively seeking leaders to help spread groups of both genders to other high school campuses.
But even in its infancy, Varsity Warriors has had a tremendous impact on 16 lives already.
"When Colin and Max came to me [about Varsity Warriors]," Bostwick said, "I had no idea what I was getting into. I went to church every week and thought my faith was pretty strong. Now we've all grown together, and I'm so thankful. Varsity Warriors is a big part of my life."
Being a high school senior, Bennett mused, he knows a lot of people -- most of whom will not be a part of his life for much longer. But because of Varsity Warriors, Bennett said, "There are 15 people my age that I know I'll be friends with my whole life. Because when you share your faith, it's a good foundation."
As Howell addressed the crowd, he noted that Varsity Warriors has helped him overcome a number of fears -- including the fear of public speaking that he had to overcome to get up on stage.
"[Varsity Warriors] has been a steadfast rock in my life when so many things are flying by," Howell said, adding that even when he was away from the group, the support of other members felt like "a backpack of friends and family" on his back.
"I will miss Mondays with Varsity Warriors -- and Leslie's cooking," Howell concluded with a smile.
"We truly became a family this year."
Citizen Staff Reports 12/01/2016
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CalendarLewis Ginter Botanical Garden will present the Dominion GardenFest of Lights nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 25 to Jan. 9 (closed Dec. 24-25). This year’s theme will explore "Living Color" and show how the world's kaleidoscope of colors speaks to people, impacts nature and influences culture. Visitors will see colorful translucent butterflies in flight, stained glass-inspired illuminations, sparkling white light transformed into a brilliant rainbow, floating flowers opening and reaching toward “sunlight,” fields of brightly colored blooms waving in the moonlight, illuminated spheres dancing in the sky, among other displays. The event features more than a half million lights, botanical decorations, trains, holiday dinners, family activities and more. Admission is $5 to $13. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text