Adrian senior Zach Sarrault had never seen, on the ground in front of him, the damage caused by a tornado.
Living only 40 miles from where a storm had torn through Dexter on March 15, he was close enough to get an idea of what had ripped through the home of one of the Maples’ Southeastern Conference rivals.
And that distance was little more than an afterthought in deciding to help out a member of the “track family.”
The tornado that day was driven by wins of up to 140 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service, and media reports said the storm damaged 100 homes and destroyed 10. One of those belonged to Dexter girls cross country coaches Katie and Bob Jazwinski – who with their children survived the storm in a bedroom closet.
“We knew we needed to go up there and help,” Sarrault said.
“I was really shocked by what it did. To see the roofs and blown-off siding. And the Dexter coaches’ house wasn’t even there anymore.”
Adrian coach Leo Lauver, his assistant coach and assistant coach’s wife and 21 members of their team – basically all who weren’t part of the school’s band and orchestra concerts that day – loaded into a bus and spent most of the daylight hours March 24 helping not only the Jazwinskis, but their neighbors as well.
A number of schools and teams have been represented in the Dexter clean-up efforts. Jazwinski said he’s seen athletes and coaches from Ann Arbor Pioneer, Pinckney, Chelsea, Ann Arbor Skyline, Whitmore Lake and the USA junior hockey team also based in Ann Arbor.
All have been appreciated. And most of that group had some kind of previous relationship with Dexter, or the Jazwinskis in particular.
But they’d known Adrian’s track people mostly through competition, and that was about it.
“My wife and I thought we were out of tears, but once we saw the Adrian bus pull up to our demolished house, we had tears flowing again, this time tears of joy and happiness,” the Jazwinskis wrote in a letter to Adrian superintendent Chris Timmis. “They have touched our lives for eternity.”
Lauver described the work as “cut down, cut down, cut down. Move, move, move.” Bob Jazwinski said his neighborhood isn’t one where people buy in as much for the houses as for the landscape – which included a number of mature trees including century-old oaks and 50-foot tall pines.
The tornado cleared many of those like it was building a golf course.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Lauver, in his 28th season coaching the Maples. “Adrian is a blue-collar town. It’s the right thing. You don’t think about it. You go help. That’s what we do here. … We’re a family, and Dexter is part of that family.”
Lauver first introduced the idea to his team the Monday after the storm. The athletes bought in immediately.
Thorns resulted in a few scratches, and the work was hard. But the Salvation Army donated gloves, and a local catering company was among those who fed the volunteers – who Bob Jazwinski had to order to eat because they were working so hard.
One of his neighbors, a Dexter cross country mom, had been in tears over all the debris scattered around her yard. The Maples cleaned up all of it, and now she calls Jazwinski just about daily to send along her thanks.
“They were very grateful. Everybody out there,” Sarrault said. “A Pioneer coach had a house there too, and I remember him telling us he’d never been so grateful to see an Adrian bus roll up.
“It really brought us together as a team, knowing we can help out other people. It will probably bring us into doing more volunteering.”
The family has received additional offers of help, including from the men’s gymnastics team from the University of Michigan – where Katie was a five-time All-American in cross country and track.
Bob Jazwinski said he and his family will move out of a hotel Wednesday. They’re working through preliminary steps at this point. But when it’s time to rebuild, Lauver – who has a background in landscaping – pledged the Maples for a return trip.
“The support of people who know us is pretty spectacular,” Bob Jazwinski said. “But to see a group of athletes from another team, that’s competitive (with us), drop everything, all the competitiveness is gone, and just want to help somebody, for us, is overwhelming.
“We’ll always be friends now, for sure.”
PHOTOS: (Top and Bottom) Adrian boys track and field athletes assist in clean of blown-down trees. (Inset) Bob and Katie Jazwinski's home was detroyed by the tornado that tore through their Dexter neighborhood March 15.(Middle) An Mlive.com report explained the damage and Jazwinskis' survival. (Photos courtesy of the Jazwinski family.)