SB Nation

Brandon Sneed | October 14, 2015

Born That Way: The Legend of Coach Marvin Jarman

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Born That Way:

The Legend of Coach Marvin Jarman

by Brandon Sneed

On a Monday night in Greenville, North Carolina, the fever of high school football archrivalry sweeps over a field in the country. Almost everyone will lose their minds at some point over the next few hours, all except one man. J.H. Rose High School’s football team, after a 30-minute trip from Marvin Jarman Drive in central Greenville here to D.H. Conley High School, steps out of their buses wearing emerald-green pants with bright blue piping and carrying their white jerseys, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” playing over the loudspeakers, the grass turning muddy under the rain. “This place smells,” one Rose player says.

The sky is thick with clouds that keep growing darker, and the wind snaps the American flag on a pole beyond the far end zone. The teams warm up, and even in the rain, the stands fill.

The game opens conference play and puts a year’s worth of pride and shame on the line. When one of the Rose coaches recently went to the grocery store, his cashier, a Conley football mom, cussed him out. Another Rose coach, who lives on the Conley side of town, makes sure to run his errands elsewhere.

The schools in Greenville, a city of 90,000 in eastern North Carolina, integrated in the late 1960s, but on nights like tonight, the area’s lingering undercurrent of racial tension swells closer to the surface. Rose students come dressed as rednecks to mock Conley, wearing hunting fatigues and overalls and straw hats and, in the case of one unfortunate young man, Daisy Dukes. Many Conley students wear all white, though they have, in the past, dressed as gangsters, mocking Rose’s more urban student body.

One Rose fan screams, “I’ve waited my whole life for this!” and he’s not even playing, just a team manager in khaki shorts and a green polo. Rose head coach Dave Wojtecki, a big man you wouldn’t take for a runner, sprints 50 yards to midfield to lead drills. Later, moments before the game starts, he dry-heaves on the sidelines.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

But one man on the Rose sideline moves with a certain different rhythm. Like the other coaches, he wears a black polo shirt with white piping, “JHR Football” stitched on the breast, and a black-and-white mesh JHR hat to match. He has white hair and a military crew cut, thin on top under the hat. He hates the rain and wears a big green raincoat most of the game, even when the rain slows down. He also wears white orthopedic nurse shoes, already so weathered and dirty they are almost brown. By the end of the night, they’ll be caked in grass and mud, but he will pay them no mind.

His tongue often pokes through his lips, and he cautiously looks out at the world from under thick eyebrows. He’s tall, and has a bit of a belly. He walks with a slow, steady plod, heels dragging, shoulders hunched forward, head down more than up, his neck a constant curve toward the earth.

He’s never not moving, always pacing, but he’s also never moving particularly fast. He ambles up to Wojtecki and, without a word, holds out a stick of Juicy Fruit gum. Wojtecki takes it without looking away from the field, and gives a quick little nod. “Thanks, Marv.” Marvin nods back and then he moves along, almost in slow motion. He gives out deliberate, quiet high-fives and pats on the back and hands out piece after piece of Juicy Fruit. On this night, he will go through seven packs.

As Marvin passes the sidelines and the fringes of the end zones, he hears his name again and again. Marvin! How you doin’, Marv! Hey, let’s go, Marv! Every single time, he turns and raises his head just enough to find the source of the voice, then lifts his hand in a slow purposeful wave. Sometimes a fan comes up and high-fives that wave.

This makes him smile, his eyes squinting, his head lifting a bit, his mouth opening in a way that looks like he’s about to laugh. This comes from people wearing Rose colors, sure, but also from many dressed in Conley’s navy and gold. However they feel about each other, no one cusses this coach out. Everyone on either side smiles when they see Marvin. He quietly offers everyone from either school a piece of gum, simply holding it out for them to take.

The game starts, and Rose scores on their first touch of the game: Star wide receiver Cornell Powell, who has a scholarship to Clemson, runs a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown. The guys on the sidelines and the fans in the stands behind them react as though Jesus Christ himself just appeared before them.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Not Marvin. He doesn’t change, even when everyone else is screaming themselves hoarse and going half-crazy. He carefully pumps his fist and he gives out high-fives, but they are the calmest fist pumps and high-fives ever. For each one, he raises his head just enough, lifts his hand just enough, hits the players’ hands just enough.

Same goes for when Rose flounders in the second half. As they fumble and stumble and people get mad at the quarterback, who struggles to hang onto the ball and make decent throws, at times Rose fans react as though, well, they would like to see a few players taken out and crucified.

Marvin? He just lifts his chin and scratches it, and every once in a while shakes his head slow and mumbles something so quiet that even he probably cannot hear it in all this noise. Players and coaches bump into him and scream across the field in his ear, and he barely reacts. Mostly he walks, back and forth, up and down the sidelines, never flinching, quietly patting players on the shoulders, only looking up when there is something to see.

Only once does he change. The quickest he moves all night is when a runner is headed his direction. He dances away from the sideline, calm as can be, shockingly spry.

Final score: 37-14 Conley. It’s a bad day for Rose. The Conley students storm the field. Marvin shakes his head. “Ahhhh,” he mutters. “Now they gon’ brag about it. That the way they are. Not the way to be.” It’s by far his biggest reaction of the night.

He plods around the crowd and to the end zone, where he meets a gray-haired, clean-shaven man about his age, wearing khaki shorts and white sneakers and a green T-shirt under a yellow poncho. It’s Ronald Vincent, Rose’s baseball coach, known to everyone around here as RV. “Time to go, Marv?”

“Yaauhp,” he says, speaking slow, drawing out the words, as if his tongue has to remember where to go and loses track along the way, sometimes making him a little hard to understand.

It takes 10 minutes to make the short walk to RV’s white Honda Pilot. People keep calling out to Marvin, and every time, he turns and raises his eyes and, when he finds them, gives his long, slow arc of a wave. “Like the dang pope,” RV says. The lot isn’t that big, but it’s crowded, and everyone, whether from Rose or Conley, wants to say “Hey” to Marvin Jarman.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

“There’s a reason,” RV says, “we call him The Legend.”

One of the many reasons Marvin is called The Legend and has a street named after him is that he has been to every single Rose football game since 1972, and he only missed one in 1972 because he got his schedule mixed up and was late to the team bus. That broke his heart. Now he gets to the school an hour early, minimum, just in case. The closest he’s ever cut it? Ten minutes. Before the Conley game, he was at Rose by 2 p.m. even though the bus didn’t leave until 5:20.

Then there’s basketball: He hasn’t missed a game since 1966, home or away. Now he has missed a few baseball games, but that’s only because basketball playoffs get in the way and even legends cannot be two places at the same time, though he would if he could.

Marvin’s life follows the Rose’s seasonal sports schedule. He is all football until football’s last game, then all basketball until basketball’s done, then all baseball through the spring, first with Rose and then, in the summer, with RV and the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department, until the first week of August. Then football practice starts again. He has his own wardrobe for each team and each season and he also works every morning till noon with Rec and Parks, picking up trash at Elm Street Park, home of Greenville’s pristine Little League field, and the playgrounds around it.

When they’re finally in the car and on the road, RV asks, “So, what’d you think, Coach Jarman?”

“Ahhhhh.” Marvin shakes his head and holds up his hands, his tongue sticking out just a bit. “Best just fuhget that game. Sometimes, you lose.”

RV shakes his head and laughs. “Yep.” It’s exactly the gentle, blunt honesty RV and the many, many people who know Marvin have come to expect from The Legend over the past many, many years. This, too, is why he is The Legend. He is always kind but never dishonest. He just tells the truth.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed
Marvin, honestly, truly, never lies.— Grant Jarman

“Wooz is wooz,” he says. Rules is rules. The people who know Marvin are used to the way he speaks, and they listen close, knowing he has trouble with his R’s and L’s and few other letters. They may mimic him, but never in a mocking way — in a loving way, as though they want to echo his words, to somehow make them as meaningful from their mouths as they are from his.

“Wooz is wooz.”

“Marvin, honestly, truly, never lies,” says his brother Grant, younger by 14 months. “He’s never smoked. He’s never cussed. None of it. None whatsoever. Never drank in any way. Whatsoever. Now, I had no problem drinking or smoking. If I got in trouble, I’d lie my way out of it. Marvin never has a wrong answer. It might not be the answer you want. But it’s never wrong.”

Grant says he got into all the same sort of shenanigans as most normal teenage boys, and Mama Jarman would ask Marvin about them, and Marvin would just shake his head. “No, no. Don’ make me lah. Don’ make me lah.”

And he never does, except, maybe sometimes, when he talks about himself, and how he was born.

Marvin was born Jan. 13, 1947, in Sterling, Colorado. It’s hard to say when the family realized Marvin was different. The only one still around is Grant. Back then, nobody knew much about kids with special needs or challenges, or what to do about them. To this day, nobody knows quite what Marvin’s condition is — was it a birth defect, an illness, a quirk of genetics, an accident? Does he have Asperger’s? Is he autistic? Marvin can read and write and has a better memory than just about anyone you’ll ever meet. He’s never been given a diagnosis, and it doesn’t matter to anybody anymore. All his family really knew was he just wasn’t born right.

What is clear, however, is that Marvin’s mother did a wonderful job raising him, of teaching him right from wrong, and how to be polite and take care of himself. How to be kind, how not to lie. He still follows her commands up to and beyond the letter. He loves anything sweet and once ate practically a whole chocolate cake and got sick. Afterwards, Mama Jarman told him not to eat that much chocolate cake or he’d get sick again. He hasn’t had a bite of chocolate since.

Marvin’s father was from eastern North Carolina, and the family moved back when Marvin and Grant were around 6 or 7 years old, first to Richlands, and eventually to Greenville. One of the best and hardest things Marvin’s mother did for him, though, was send Marvin back to Colorado, to a school for special needs kids. She could find nothing like it near Greenville, so for a few years, every year, Marvin, all by himself, boarded a plane at the end of summer and flew across the country to live with his grandmother or an aunt, and go to school. His mother cried every time he left.

She had bad asthma, and one year the whole family returned to Colorado for the air. While Grant went to a big high school in Sterling, their mom thought it would be better if Marvin went to a smaller high school where an aunt was a teacher and where there were fewer students.

“They didn’t understand him,” Grant says of the students. “They were tough on him.” Girls called him ugly. Boys bullied him. Some stole from him.

“Not nice,” Marvin says.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Even Grant, as a child, had a hard time knowing how to deal with Marvin. “I did not want him to be around my friends,” Grant says. “Marvin had a lot of challenges.” He pauses. His eyes go wet.

He says, “I used to always question about Marvin. About why he couldn’t be like everybody else. Used to bother me real bad. And I probably used to …” He pauses, shakes his head, coughs. “I don’t know if I could go so far as to say blame God, but maybe I really did.”

Marvin easily could have been forgotten, too different for anybody to notice, or care for, and ended up alone or institutionalized. But the family moved back to Greenville, and they never left again. “Wawmer,” says Marvin. “Moh fwiends.” He likes Greenville best and has only been back to Colorado a few times since then, and never without RV. “He knows I’m coming back,” RV says.

Marvin’s parents worked with horses and had a stable right across the street from a baseball complex. Grant started playing baseball at around 8 years old, and Marvin soon became obsessed with the game. “All we did was play ball,” Grant says. Marvin always tagged along. He tried to play. He wanted to play. “But,” he says, “I just woh’n that good.”

But that’s how he and RV met when they were both about 15, and RV became Marvin’s best friend. “Nice to me,” Marvin says. Eventually, Marvin would spend all his summer days with RV. Grant says, “The best thing that ever happened to Marvin in his whole life, is Ronald.”

Marvin went to Rose, called Greenville High School back then. After RV graduated in 1965, he started driving Marvin to and from the games, which turned into eating dinner together and just hanging out. Marvin stayed in school until he was 22 and graduated in 1969, the same year J.H. Rose integrated.

Photo: Sandy Jarrett

Marvin remembers black kids beating a white kid with a pipe in the bathroom, and white kids beating up black kids. At one point a campus-wide riot broke out, the school shut down for a week, and the National Guard came in, and police patrolled the halls the rest of the year.

But Marvin never cared about race. He knew what it meant to try to find your way in a strange world where everyone thinks you are different, are lesser. Black or white, he treated all students the same way he treats all the players, which is the same way he treats everyone — like human beings.

Ask him why, and he pauses for a long time. He likes to think things through first, to make sure he gives you a right and honest answer, like he’s been taught. “Doh’n matter. What matters is if you ack right.”

As upsetting as anything else to Marvin was that the racial tensions caused a football game to be canceled — hate ruined even the one thing that seemed to bring people together. Because in sports, Marvin found a connection with other people in a way he did nowhere else. “That’s what I like,” he says. “I doh’n like to be somewhere I doh’n know nobody, nobody know me.” And when Marvin is on the sidelines, everybody knows him.

By the time Marvin graduated, everyone saw him the way RV first did. As a senior, the school named him “Mr. School Spirit.” When his name was called and he went to accept the award, people urged him to make a speech. He paused for a long moment, thinking, then he leaned down to the mic and said, “Thank you.”

It was around this time that Grant stopped blaming God for the way Marvin was born. “One day it just hit me,” Grant says. “I’m worried about all the things that Marvin isn’t, and really, I got the most special brother in the world.”

But even then, he had no idea Marvin would become The Legend.

People around Greenville say Marvin has never stopped being Mr. School Spirit, and a local newspaper feature years ago called him “The Best High School Sports Fan In The Galaxy” — but that’s not quite accurate now, and hasn’t been for a long time.

He’s going to stick with you thick or thin, win, lose or draw … Kids want to play well for Marvin.—Tommy Peacock

He’s not just a fan anymore. He is a coach, Coach Jarman. That’s how he sees himself, that’s what people call him, and that’s how everyone at Rose treats him, staff and students alike. “We say he’s in charge of Rose High,” says athletic director Tommy Peacock, who’s been working at Rose since 1982. “He’s the foundation here. He’s going to stick with you thick or thin, win, lose or draw. I probably see him every day around here. Rain or shine, he’s here every day with a smile on his face. And every high school we go to, someone’s always asking, how’s Marvin?”

And it’s not just Rose that Marvin loves, but all Greenville sports. On any given day if Rose isn’t playing you’ll find him at a Little League game or an East Carolina University football game — ECU is in Greenville and he goes to all the home games with RV — or anywhere else sports are played. If there isn’t a Rose varsity football, basketball or baseball game, he’ll go see a JV team play, or a volleyball match, or a swim meet. “That always means a lot to those kids,” says Peacock. “It means Marvin deemed their event important enough to attend. Kids want to play well for Marvin.”

When Marvin is there, it means that even the kids whose parents don’t come, or maybe don’t even have a parent, or maybe never leave the bench, know someone cares, that someone is there to see them.

“Some of them don’t even have a place to stay at night. Never know where their next meal is gonna come from unless we’re feeding them at football games or after games,” says Wojtecki. “Sometimes that’s all they eat, is here with us. They don’t have a lot of stability at the house.”

Marvin, however, is the definition of stability. He has not only been to almost every football, basketball and baseball game since 1966 — he’s been to almost every practice, too. He doesn’t even take off for his birthday on Jan. 13. Coaching comes first.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

That began in earnest in 1973, when RV returned to Rose as a baseball coach. RV saw Marvin’s deep love for the games, his beautiful and kind heart, and kept Marvin by his side, a constant at every game and practice. No matter what, he never said anything negative about how the players played or how the teams did, even at their worst. Never. He would be honest, sure. Defense, bad, he’d say. Offense, struggle. That sort of thing. But he never insulted anyone personally. Not a gweat pwayer. But gweat puh-son.

Now Coach Jarman has a role with every team. For the football team, he manages the practice clock. He used to grab the kicking tee during games, but he recently retired from that duty. “By the time I got it now, it’d be deway of game.”

On the basketball team, he’s the free throw coach. He knows proper form perfectly, and tells you when you are doing it wrong, even if his own form is not quite so good: Sometimes coach James Rankins has Marvin shoot free throws to determine whether or not the team runs suicide sprints, so Marvin spends a lot of time practicing, shoving the ball away from his chest with both hands, making sure he’s ready when Coach calls his name and the whole team is behind him cheering. During games, he tracks rebounds, and he never misses even one. One year, Rankins had a four-star recruit who was certain Marvin was losing track. Rankins met with the boy one Saturday in private, so as not to embarrass Marvin, and they reviewed game film and counted the rebounds themselves — and they counted exactly as many as Marvin.

During baseball season, Marvin keeps the pitch count, and during practice, he umpires scrimmages. He’s not the best at that. He is often half-asleep. Most close calls go in favor of whoever yells first. “Everyone gives him a hard time about it,” RV says, “and he says, ‘Wayl, they awnly mad ‘bout it cause they lawst.’”

He’s like Rain Man, except not with numbers, but with people.—Grant Jarman

And for all the teams, no matter what the sport, he’s a reservoir of information, a history book. Marvin has an astonishing memory. All those games he’s been to? He can tell you almost anything about almost all of them — who won, what the score was, and all about the big plays. He’ll remember what a player did in an at-bat two years ago. He remembers players making plays and getting hits from 50 years ago. In 1999, floods from Hurricane Floyd destroyed parts of Greenville, and Elm Street Park, which had to be rebuilt. The first game back in the stadium was an emotional one for anyone who’d played Little League. Former Rose athlete Griff Garner’s son Gray had the first at-bat in the new stadium. He got a hit, then got thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Years later, Garner asked Marvin, “Hey, can you tell me who got the first hit in the new Elm Street Stadium?”

Marvin grinned. “Yauhp,” he said. “Gway.” Then Marvin said, “An he made the first out, too.”

“Like a computer,” Rankins says. “He was our Internet before there was Internet.”

Now he sees old players’ children’s children, and tells them stories about plays their grandparents made decades ago. And when a kid needs a reminder of how good they are, Marvin will tell him about a great play he once made. He remembers more than most people forget. He gives people something most of us deeply, quietly crave: With Marvin you feel seen, even significant, because to him, you are. What you did 20 or 30 years ago matters. And when he knows you, he is like Google for your life. “He’s like Rain Man,” Grant says, “except not with numbers, but with people.”

And Marvin’s great memory goes beyond Rose sports. On long bus rides, players try to stump him on all kinds of sports history, smartphones in hand, Google at the ready. They almost never do. And you can quiz him on any U.S. president, too. And their extended families. One of his favorite facts? William Howard Taft was the fattest president. “Got stuck in the tub.”

In this Moneyball age, it’s easy to forget that no amount of data or strategizing can compensate for what a player really needs to play well. If a kid can’t keep calm, comfortable and confident, nothing else matters. That’s harder than ever. Never has there been more pressure, or more scrutiny. Never has it been easier for a tornado to tear through the things that hold young men together.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Marvin has a way of calming the winds, of making those storms be still. Screw up, and you can’t get but so mad with Marvin there watching you, always calm, and usually patting you on the back. “It’s awright,” he’ll say. “Juss keep goin. Life will anyway. Go on with it.”

“That’s so crucial,” says RV, who has become a legend himself in the state of North Carolina, with more wins than any other high school baseball coach, 866, and six state championships. “That’s probably one of the things that’s really helped over the years, with having Marvin around. Because you know he’s not gonna get so uptight, he’s not gonna get so down.”

“I can’t tell you how much he has helped RV,” says Tiffany Vincent, RV’s second wife. The life of a high school coach is tough. People are always telling you how you’re doing them or their children wrong. There’s a lot of negative feedback. “You might see Marvin frustrated, but he doesn’t ever talk about people or grumble about things or complain about things. RV needs somebody that’s positive, and Marvin is definitely that.”

He treats substitutes as kindly as most people treat the stars, and he has a knack for knowing what a player needs to hear and when. He’ll make his jokes. He’ll bring up silly errors to make you laugh. One time Wojtecki asked him to say some words to the team before a big game. Marvin thought long and hard, then simply raised his fist and pumped it. The guys went nuts.

Marvin keeps the boys straight, too. Some guys on the Rose baseball team recently were suspended after they posted pictures of themselves online drinking and smoking and whatnot. Of all the punishments they received, the one from Marvin probably hurt the worst. He gave them the cold shoulder for days. “Wooz is wooz.”

If one day [Marvin] didn’t show up, these kids would probably lose their damn minds.”—Dave Wojtecki

After every baseball practice or game, Marvin gets in the middle of a team huddle, everyone’s hands raised together, and sends them off with, “Ro High!” Every Friday afternoon, RV asks Marvin to give the team some sage advice going into the weekend. He always says the same thing: “Stay outta twubble. And doh’n kiss ugly women.”

The Rose baseball team practices and plays at Guy Smith Stadium about a mile from campus — across from where his parents used to have their stable — and sometimes players are late or don’t come at all because, they say, they couldn’t get a ride. RV will point to Marvin and tell them how if Marvin can’t get a ride, he walks. “He wants to be here,” RV says. “It’s simple as that.”

“When it comes to high school kids, consistency is huge,” says assistant football coach Rusty Compton.

“He’s a security blanket,” Wojtecki says. “A lot of these kids, their home lives are so wishy-washy, up and down, they don’t have any structure. Not a lot of them have a father figure at home. A lot are raised by their mother, grandmother. A lot of them are from homes, live in foster care And Marv is, to them, almost like a father figure, some of them. Marv’s here. He’s always here. And they know he’s gonna always be here.

“Now, if one day he didn’t show up, these kids would probably lose their damn minds.”

Visit Greenville for a few days and it’s likely you’ll be asked if you’ve met Marvin yet. Stay a few days longer and you probably will. Marvin doesn’t forget very many people, but the same is true of the people Marvin meets. Very few ever forget him. His legend has long since spread beyond Greenville, to all corners of the country. One time Grant took Marvin to an Atlanta Braves game, but their seats were in the nosebleeds, and Marvin doesn’t like heights. Marvin asked an usher if they could get better seats because they knew the umpire. The usher went to the umpire and told him about this crazy upper deck person named Marvin Jarman asking for better seats and saying he knew him and —”Marvin Jarman?” Joe West said. “Yeah, man. Give him seats right behind home plate!”

West, known as one of baseball’s gruffest and most confrontational umpires, graduated from Rose, where he played baseball and football. He’s not exactly someone you expect to speak of people with great affection, but that’s exactly how he speaks of Marvin, with the tenderness of a man eulogizing a dear brother. “He’s a special person,” West says. “I mean, he is special. And he knows everything. He can tell me more about my statistics than I can. I mean, he knew I was the first base umpire for Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter. It’s amazing.”

In 1982, Marvin and RV and longtime friend Randy Phillips went to a Yankees game. Even in Yankee Stadium, people came up to them and said, “Hey Marvin!”, recognizing him by the bright green Rose jacket he wears everywhere. And then afterward, as they were leaving and they passed the locker room, where a crowd had gathered to get autographs from the team, a voice called out: “Marvin Jarman! Come here, man!” It was Yankees manager Clyde King, from Goldsboro, some 40 miles from Greenville, cutting through the crowd to hug him. “My God!” Phillips remembers thinking. “Who are we here with?”

Photo: Allison Mallison

Former Greenville mayor Don Parrott once told RV he was glad Marvin never ran for office, because Marvin would win in a landslide. Any given moment, you’ll see Marvin walking the streets, though that doesn’t last too long because someone always gives him a ride. When people from Greenville caught wind of a writer’s Facebook post saying he was writing a story about Marvin, they “liked” and shared it more than 2,400 times within a week, and left more than 300 comments, story after story after story. The writer’s email inbox was flooded. His phone rang and rang. Wherever he went in Greenville, people, unprompted, told him how Marvin moved them. All Marvin had to say about that? “Some people care, some people doh’n care.”

Like most of what Marvin says, that is technically true, but far more care about him than don’t. Tiffany Vincent says, “When Marvin dies, it’ll be the biggest funeral in Pitt County.”

Marvin seems almost too good to be real, or even human for that matter. Compared to the rest of us, he seems like he’s come here from some different dimension, or as an emissary from a kind alien race. Clever, then, of the aliens to make him entirely too human in other ways. For one thing, Marvin’s coordination isn’t the best. It’s why he just wasn’t good enough to play sports. From time to time he’ll trip, or spill something on himself, or drop a plate or a glass. A few years ago during a party after a big football win, he fell off the side of a patio and broke his left wrist, moaning like a wounded puppy. At the hospital, when the doctor told him to wiggle his fingers, Marvin fluttered the fingers on his right hand. “Your other hand, Marvin,” the doctor said. Marvin stared at his left hand, thinking, then used his right hand to lift the fingers on his left hand and wiggle them.

And don’t even try to take him on vacation. He can tolerate maybe about an hour at the beach before he’s fidgeting and pacing. “Bored. Bored.”

“The worst thing that can happen to Marvin is not being able to get out,” RV says. “If he had to stay home all day, if he could not get out and see people.”

Christmas, for example, drives him nuts. “Maybe his least favorite day of the year,” RV says with a laugh. All that sitting around doing nothing, no practices or games to go to. “Ahhhh. Boorrrreeeddd.”

That’s just what he said about his mom’s funeral.

He was confused when he got home and all the lights were on and there were lots of people in the driveway and the house, because he was certain he had locked up behind himself. Mama Jarman told him to do it once, so Marvin did it always. Then he walked inside and Grant was there telling him that Mama was gone. RV was there, and Randy Phillips, there to comfort him. But it was Marvin who ended up comforting everyone else.

“He misses her and all,” RV says, “but it’s just a fact to him. ‘It’s the way it is.’ And he deals with it. We all worry about what’s going to happen to Marvin, what’s going to go on. And he’s just — ‘It’s the way it is.’ That’s how Marvin does it. I mean, yeah, he was upset. But more like, ‘Well, whatta ya gonna do?’”

“Like, ‘Let’s carry on,’” Phillips says. “Just keep doing things, out of regularity. ‘Let’s carry on. Let’s take the next step.’ It wasn’t so much that he said it. He just did it. I got so much out of that.”

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Marvin remembers that “having all those people over meant not going to pwactice.” He missed a football practice because of the visitation, that is. “But the funeral was better,” he says. “I could go to pwactice after.” He was back where he wanted to be, out of the house, with people. As he tells the boys on his teams: Life goes on. Might as well go with it.

That was 24 years ago. Not too long after that, he helped RV’s life go on, too.

RV hates rainy days as much as Marvin. Can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything. One Saturday this past September, East Carolina University had a football game, and it was pouring down rain, and RV and Marvin both still went to the game, because they always go. “Can’t stand just sitting around the house,” he says. But about a decade ago, RV felt very, very different. There was a time he didn’t want to leave the house at all.

First, cancer took RV’s younger brother Charles, who got Marvin his job with the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department in 1969, and after whom Grant even named his son. Then, three years later, in June, RV’s mother died of heart failure after a long sickness. One month later, RV’s wife, Marcia, lost a long fight with leukemia.

And all RV wanted to do was sit around the house, stay inside, and mourn.

But Marvin is a man of routine. And well, Marvin has quite a few things he has to do every day at a certain time. Otherwise, Ahhhh. Gotta go. Ahhhh.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

Marvin lives in a big gray house with Grant and Grant’s wife Brenda, who make sure he has money for the day and that his medical needs are kept up. He has his own corner of the house, a big bedroom with articles and trophies and plaques all over the walls, all with his name on them. Right Hand Man Award. NCHSAA Special Person Award. Outstanding Alumni Award. Kiwanis Youth Worker Of The Year. Civitan International Citizen Of The Year. And so on. There are trophies and certificates and articles from the local papers: “RV, Jarman Share Memories on the Diamond,” reads one from 2003, when RV set the North Carolina record for most wins by a high school baseball coach. “1,100 and counting,” says another published last January, about Marvin’s streak of attending consecutive basketball games. The headline of an article about his 50th birthday reads simply: “Marvin!”

Every morning, Grant drops Marvin off at his job keeping the parks clean. And every day at 10:30, local Little League commissioner Brian Weingartz, Marvin’s boss, takes him to a nearby gas station for his break, where Marvin usually gets two Diet Mountain Dews and either a honey bun or pack of Nabs. Then Marvin works for another hour, and RV picks Marvin up for lunch.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed
Above: Marvin and RV at Elm Street Park

For a long time, RV didn’t really want to do much of anything. But since Marvin’s never let him down, he didn’t want to let Marvin down, so even on the darkest days, he got up and helped Marvin keep his routine.

The lunch spots sometimes change, but usually on Monday it’s McAlister’s Deli, Tuesday it’s a burger joint called Cubbies, Wednesday it’s a local Mexican place called Chico’s, Thursday it’s The Met Deli, and Friday it’s a local bar called Professor O’Cools. Then RV or sometimes someone else will take Marvin back home.

But Marvin’s only there long enough for a shower and a change of clothes. Then, during the schoolyear, Marvin goes to Rose — but RV’s worst times weren’t during the school year, they were during the summer, when he had more time alone. Still, every summer afternoon, Marvin kept showing up at RV’s house, just like always, and RV simply couldn’t turn him away. So in Marvin came, every day, and went straight to the fridge, as always, for a Mountain Dew, even if he was already carrying one. “Marvin!” RV would say. “You already have one in your hand!” Marvin would shrug. “Thirsty.”

Then Marvin parked himself on the couch and turned the TV to ESPN or a channel showing a Western movie — his granddaddy rode with Buffalo Bill — and he would fall asleep until it was time to go to the ballpark, where his friends coach and where the children of boys he’s coached before play. Marvin has to check in on all of them, so RV had no choice but to get up and go out every day. RV couldn’t take time off from being a coach, because that may well mean Marvin would have to stop being a coach, too, and RV couldn’t possibly be responsible for that.

Photo: Brandon Sneed

And then, every day, after a practice or a clinic RV would run, it would be, “Gotta eat, Wonald.” So every day RV took Marvin to dinner, almost always at O’Cools.

Marvin being Marvin, everywhere they go, a half-dozen or more people come up to him and say “Hey” and ask him what he thinks of such and such game, or try to stump him with a question or something.

Marvin didn’t let RV off the hook come Saturday, either — then as now, Marvin spent all morning at Boulevard Bagel, visiting with everyone who comes through, then he called RV to see what they were doing for lunch. That’s a bit more flexible on the weekend. RV didn’t even ask about the afternoon — as always, Marvin just came right over for sports and/or Westerns and a nap again. Except when football season came — then it was time to go to ECU home games. Then it was O’Cools for dinner again.

And Marvin would not only get RV out of the house, he’d get RV laughing, too. You can’t not laugh at his “Marvinisms.” When he sees a newborn baby he smiles and says “Hey, how ya doin,” and then — with permission — he holds up his hand over their head. “Welcome to tha wohld,” he says. It’s beautifully dramatic. “Like the papal blessing,” RV says. And when RV’s trying to find somewhere to park at McAlister’s on Mondays, where the lot is always packed, he’ll sometimes say, “Marvin, ain’t no parking spaces.”

“Always a pahking space,” Marvin says. “You just gotta wahk fuhther. Pwenty of pahking spaces. The whole wohld’s a pahking space.”

Day in and day out, except for Sundays — when Marvin goes for a long walk on Greenville’s “greenways,” walking trails looping from downtown past Elm Street Park and throughout the city — Marvin was there, even though all RV wanted to do was sit around the house. “And I needed that,” RV says. “Someone, something, constant, steady. ‘Ready to go.’”

If RV hadn’t had Marvin, if he had just sat around the house, he may have never found Tiffany. A friend was having a birthday party at Cubbie’s, and RV didn’t really want to go. But, “Gotta eat, Wonald.” So it was on to Cubbie’s. RV and Tiffany met, had a nice conversation, and when he asked her to go to dinner she said yes. Of course, when she showed up, Marvin was there, too. “Oh, I didn’t even ask,” RV said apologetically, “but I guess it’s OK if Marvin comes?”

Tiffany laughed. “Of course it was,” she says. She married RV about a year later, and, she says, “He’s been on just about every date since then. It was like marrying RV and Marvin.” Which she’s perfectly OK with. Now she cooks dinner for the both of them almost every night, one of her favorite things, because eating good food is one of Marvin’s passions, and cooking for people is one of Tiffany’s — especially when it comes to Marvin. It’s one way she thanks him for how good he’s been for RV.

Photo: Katie Holloman Sneed

And really, the way Marvin is so good for RV and all the kids at Rose is also how good he is for for Greenville on the whole. He’s a treasure, a constant, a reminder of something in all of us that sometimes feels lost. All those who know Marvin can’t imagine what Greenville will be like when he’s gone. Who will bring everyone together, give out high fives, bless the babies, and hand out gum?

That day almost came a few years ago. As he was walking out of downtown after lunch at Chico’s, crossing a busy intersection between a McDonald’s and a Sheetz, Marvin got mixed up on the light changes, and then he was stuck in a swirl of cars. He ran, and then he fell. Cars honked and swerved, and it was a miracle nobody hit him.

Still, he was hurt. By the time RV saw him, his arm was in a sling, and his face was a bloody, swollen mess.

“Sometimes,” Marvin said, “there’s just too much taffic to cwoss the street.”

“You break anything?” RV asked.

“No … Well. Pavement.”

It was one of Marvin’s worst falls, and in those moments when Marvin is in pain and worried that his routine has been changed, that he might miss a practice or a game, and might not have some Juicy Fruit when someone reaches out their hand for a piece, RV is there, his oldest and dearest friend. At those times, he asks a simple, caring question. “Marvin, what happened?”

Then Marvin, who always tells the truth, says something that clearly isn’t true at all, something that he always says and yet no one who truly knows him believes, even for a second, not really.

Marvin looks up and says, “Just woh’n born wight.”

About the Author

Brandon Sneed is a writer based in eastern North Carolina. He's the author of an untitled narrative business book with Hwy 55 founder Kenny Moore (coming winter 2014) and the forthcoming novel "The Making Island" (spring 2015). He also wrote the book "The Edge of Legend" and has written for Men's Journal, GQ, ESPN The Magazine, Outside, SLAM, and more. He blogs at and does Twitter as @brandonsneed.