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The final seconds ticked off in what felt like excruciatingly slow fashion, but ultimately time expired with Swain County still in possession of a 16-14 lead over Chocowinity Southside. The celebration was on—the Maroon Devils were the 2004 1-A state champions. Players triumphantly raised their helmets into the air, coaches congratulated each other, and the Swain County faithful roared. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Marr didn’t have a helmet handy, but he grabbed a placeholder of similar size and weight, thrusting his infant daughter, Jenna, high into the air like a Smoky Mountain Simba.
Jenna is now a senior at Swain, a collegiate volleyball signee who also excels for the basketball and track teams, and while her father is still her biggest supporter, she is standing on her own two feet.
Jeff Marr was destined to play football. He grew up tagging along at the heels of his father, Bob, to Swain County practices, games, and workouts. Bob, who like his son is a member of the Swain Athletic Hall of Fame, put young Jeff to work.
“From the time I was able to be on the practice field, I was with dad almost every day,” remembers Jeff. “I was always the ball boy, the manager, whatever you want to call it, for the football team. Always hanging out, I mean athletics was just what our life revolved around. We didn’t go on vacations, simply because I was always in a sport doing something. My mom is a huge football fan, a huge sports fan, so we’re just an athletic family.”
The early exposure helped Jeff become a Swain Hall of Famer in his own right. He played for two football state championship teams in 1990 and 1991 and, as a junior in 1991-1992, for a Maroon Devil basketball team that finished 24-3. He also competed in baseball and track, but his gridiron talent caught the eye of several college coaches. Despite playing quarterback and defensive back in high school he accepted a scholarship to Appalachian State as a punter.
Marr returned home after college and began a coaching and teaching career that has spanned more than two decades. When son Jake and daughter Jenna came along, there was never any hesitation to throw them into the mix just as Bob did with him.
“Just being a coach for 21 years, I was predominantly football, but I did a lot of basketball as well, and her and Jake both were just always with me, whether it was in the gym, on the field, it didn’t matter if it was practice or a game, they just grew up knowing that athletics was going to be a huge focus of our family,” he says.
The result was Jenna both learning from and squaring off with a former collegiate-athlete father and an eventual college-athlete older brother.
“It definitely made me tougher because they did not take it easy on me at all,” she laughs.
Jake was a football player, allowing for plenty of father-son time after school each day during his four years at Swain before moving on to play for Carson-Newman University. But when Jenna entered high school and began to carve out her own special niche during volleyball season - which coincides with football - Jeff decided he wanted to be as present for her career as he had been for Jake’s. He stepped down as Offensive Coordinator two years ago, using his afternoons to attend every volleyball match and train Jenna.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” says Jenna. “He’s my number one supporter. Over quarantine we were working out together. He spends so many hours in the gym tossing me balls and just helping me become a better volleyball player.”
And while he didn’t play volleyball himself, Jeff in enjoying the new role in his adopted sport.
“With both kids, it’s just been awesome as a father to just watch them do their thing at Swain where I was able to do it as well,” says Jeff.