When I came to Pitt back in the 1990s, Chad Varga was one of the first athletes I'd heard about. That name probably doesn't carry a lot of weight these days, but Varga was one of Pitt's better, more athletic players at the time. I remember going to see him as I shelled out a $20.00 for basketball tickets ... for the entire season. Those games in the Field House usually weren't all that competitive since Pitt wasn't very good. But Varga always stood out to me and for years now, he's been making a positive influence off the court.
The thing about athletes is that 99% of the time, we've got no idea what they've been through. Varga had it rough growing up and through college.
Varga grew up around Detroit with his mother, who by his account, abused alcohol and drugs. According to an interview the Post-Gazette's Ron Cook a few years ago, Varga's got sad story after story about his childhood. There were times he was beaten and stabbed. Times he was taken to crack houses ... as a pre-schooler. The time he witnessed a murder. It didn't end as a child, though. It continued through college when he witnessed his mother being abused from boyfriends. He once defended her and broke his hand just after graduating, which partially derailed his chances of playing in the NBA when he was trying out for the Dallas Mavericks.
He always knew he'd want to make a difference in the life of others, and shortly after graduating, he did just that. He became a born-again Christian and after playing a few years overseas, at only 25, Varga became a motivational speaker traveling to schools across the country. Many athletes start charities but rarely participate in the actual day-to-day operations. Varga started InspireNow, and is heavily involved, though. Through the non-profit organization, he reaches out to schools and gets businesses involved to actively teach kids life skills and basic principles such as honesty, integrity, and courage. He speaks to an estimated 250,000 every year.
On top of that, according to Cook's article, Varga was given 150 acres of property on which he plans to build a youth home:
"As great as it is to talk to teenagers, I have to leave them when I'm done," Varga said. "The only way to have a true impact is through relationships, and relationships take time. This facility will enable my wife and me to mentor kids on a weekly basis."
It's safe to say that the majority of students in the Oakland Zoo today don't know much about Varga, but he was a fan favorite of mine and others who suffered through some pretty miserable Pitt seasons. Glad to hear he's making a difference off the court.
To see the rest of the Buick Human Highlight Reel, and even share a story of your own, go to ncaa.com/buick. This post is sponsored by Buick.