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Teammates vs. COVID-19

June 01, 2020

In times of crisis or a natural disaster, a phenomenon called an adhocracy will develop. This creation consists of the people on the ground whose mission becomes helping the community around them. As COVID-19 has swept through the country, a team of women on the court and off have banded together in the Ann Arbor community to help their frontline hospital workers.


Susan Najita was the first of her teammates to realize that though they couldn’t do much, they could try to do something. The first person that came to Najita’s mind was their teammate and friend Heather Cooper, who works as an ER nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital (St. Joe’s).


“I just wanted to help someone I knew who was going to be in these situations, so I thought of Heather,” said Najita. “I knew that she was an ER nurse because just before lockdown, a coach [Nick] at the club had broken his leg.

Heather was helping Nick with his bandages and cast at the club. I was so impressed by how she took care of people and gave whenever she could.”


Najita contacted Cooper to see what supplies she and her team could actually use. Cooper told her that food deliveries would be the most valuable thing to help her team at the hospital.  At first, Cooper could not believe what she was hearing. She was so used to acting as the helper and not the other way around.


“As an ER nurse, you only give, that’s how you are created,” said Cooper. “So, when she [Susan] originally asked me [about delivering supplies], I needed a minute.”

Cooper realized how genuine her teammates and friends really were in this moment and started to explain to another teammate, veteran organizer Lee Wu, the schedule of her 12-hour days and how little time staff had to refuel their bodies.


Wu and Najita, with the help of Sanne Krummel, determined what contributions were possible given the challenges of shelter in place rules. Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson suggested coffee from a local shop, Sweetwaters, and Najita agreed to sew cloth masks.


After Najita’s initial email to Cooper, the wheels began turning on their operation. In addition to Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marla Booth was among one of the first to join. Booth had just returned from a trip and immediately stepped in by driving food deliveries to the hospital. The business the women were using for coffee and pastries, Sweetwaters on Plymouth and Green, had experienced hardships during this time, so the women were excited to help a local business with a personal tie for Sarbaugh-Thompson.


Booth and Stephanie Preston immediately stepped in to drive food deliveries to the hospital.


When Preston entered the operation, she was astounded by how much money Sarbaugh-Thompson was contributing from her own pocket. It was then that she suggested creating a donation system and contacted the rest of the team. She happily took on the job of coordinating and tracking the donations. Preston knew that her fellow teammates had been itching to help in some way, but she wasn’t prepared for just how much help they could provide.


Now, about two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has only had to fundraise for supplies three times, the donations coming in huge quantities. Teams from other clubs around the area have been helping as well, making it a tennis community-wide effort. Local sandwich shops, like DiBella’s Subs and Moonwinks, provided sandwiches at extreme discounts for the frontline workers. With Preston’s expert coordination of donations, Huda Fadel, Lori Reece and Wu scheduled and ordered lunch deliveries.


In addition to providing food for the hospital staff on a regular basis, Ann Graves, an 85-year-old teammate, Najita and Reece have teamed up to sew masks for the hosptial's emergency department staff. To date, they have sewn over 300 masks and counting.


What began as a simple email has now morphed in something no one, especially Cooper, could have ever imagined.


“I have the paper in front of me to write a thank you note, and I have the pen, and I almost start to cry because I don’t even know where to start,” said Cooper. “How do you thank people for providing all of these things for you for a job that is your job; we do this every day.”


As much as their help has touched Cooper and the rest of her hospital staff, it has been just as beneficial for the team.


“I like that I am still in contact with my tennis friends, whether it is Heather or the rest of the team or those donating,” said Najita. “I feel like we are all alone in our lockdown world, and it’s just good to know that everybody is okay, and we are still continuing to connect with each other.”


Though the world might look a little different these days, the bond that we all feel through tennis remains.


“I didn’t know any of these women just a couple of years ago, didn’t know Heather or any of these women, but because of tennis, I now play with a lot of them regularly and get paired up as doubles partners with them,” said Booth. “Tennis is an amazing sport that brings us together on the court but also in this time of crisis where we can come together.”


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