Lending some hands for 'Family'

March 30, 2012

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.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.