By James Kay
When he heard his doorbell ring early in the morning on May 19, 6-year-old Marlin Grant Jr. had no idea of the surprise he was about to receive.
Greeted by members of Fenwick and Solorio high schools' girls soccer teams, multiple media members and cameras outside in front of his home, Grant Jr. (nicknamed "MJ") heard a countdown from the small crowd.
"Three! Two! One!"
Pealing around the corner of his house was MJ's father and U.S. Marine, Marlin Sr. on the bike the soccer players assembled for MJ. Even with the excitement in receiving a new bike, MJ ran over to get a hug from dad, whom he hadn't seen with Marlin Sr.'s travel-heavy schedule.
"If you haven't been in a military family, you don't think about what a military kid goes through," said Joe Trost, the founder of PepsiCo Showdown which helped organize the event. "You hear stories where dad couldn't make graduation because he had to spend it at base or the family has to move six times in nine years. We wanted to do something for those kids."
Over the last year, PepsiCo Showdown, which brings high school sports teams together from different areas for tournaments and charitable off-the-field events, has been planning out a campaign to honor military families for Military Appreciation Month. For last year's PepsiCo Showdown tournament, Trost and company brought bike parts and manuals for the teams to assemble bikes for the children of the military families.
The Grants were obvious candidates to be recipients of the campaign. Marlin Sr. has been a Marine for the last 12 years, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan. During his time of service, he received the Presidential Service Badge and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
For a time, Marlin Sr. was assigned to the White House, where he would meet his wife Shela, who is also a Marine. She now works as a police officer at the Department of Veteran Affairs after working as part of the Presidential Helicopter Squadron for four years.
On top of the service provided by Shela and Marlin Sr., MJ and his cousin, Victor, didn't own bikes, making the Grant family a perfect match for the campaign. The event's press release stated that they wanted to give Victor a bike as well so that "they can ride together."
On the day of the event, members Fenwick and Solorio's soccer teams talked with MJ about his dad right before the grand reveal.
"MJ and his cousin [Victor] were so funny," said Fenwick junior Anna Mulcahy. "We asked him what his dad was like and he said that his dad wears a uniform and a lot of buttons. He made sure to tell us [Marlin Sr.] wears a belt which we all laughed at."
While Trost and Mulcahy said that MJ has a big personality, he was a little camera-wary with all the media members pointing their lenses at him. Still, he shook off his timidity and went for a ride on his new bike.
"He was very sweet and polite," said Mulcahy. "It was a great moment to be a part of."
Fenwick players also reunite
The Grant family wasn't the only group that reconvened after time apart. While the whole team wasn't there due to scheduling conflicts with AP testing, seven Friars showed up to support the cause. It was the first time the team members had seen each other since their season was suspended four days before the first game.
"It went from hard practices and going 100 miles per hour to the season being canceled and stopping at zero miles per hour," said assistant coach Dan Hussey.
"I felt so bad for the seniors and everyone on this team because they put a lot of time in to prepare for this season. But you have to give them credit. They understood the situation and took the right attitude. I also think it says a lot about them to show up early in the morning and come through for this [event]. They are still have class and AP testing. Even if we didn't have the entire team there, I think it meant something to them to do this."
Mulcahy echoed a similar sentiment.
"We've gotten to see each other over some [Zoom video conferencing calls], but it's not the same," said Mulcahy. "With social distancing too, we wanted to give [MJ] a hug and give each other hugs. But when we saw each other yesterday, we were super happy. Our team is really close."