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When a Team’s Secret Weapon is the Custodian

By Pete Levine ·

Maintaining an arena that plays host to Division I college sports is like running a small city. From event security to game day audiovisual staff, from ticket takers to concession stand operators, from the coaches to the student-athletes themselves, putting on a nationally televised event is truly a team sport.

For the fans of Kent State University’s Golden Flashes, there’s one team member who might not be visible on game day, but whose contributions are essential: its custodian, AFSCME Local 153 (Council 8) member, Sabra Lloyd (pronounced SAY-bra).

“She embodies everything,” says Jenna Litz, a fellow custodian who trained under Lloyd when Litz started working at Kent State’s Memorial Athletic & Convocation Center (MACC) three years ago. The MACC, as it’s known, hosts sporting events like basketball and gymnastics, as well as other events, such as convocations and graduations.

“She not only does a fantastic custodial job,” says Litz. “But she’s also really focused on the betterment of her students. It’s not just cleaning the athletes’ locker rooms. It’s making sure they’re safe and healthy.”

Litz shares a story that’s emblematic of the compassion Lloyd shows to the student athletes who pass through the MACC each day.

“There was a gymnast who you could tell wasn’t quite feeling right. She was headed to our vending machines where Sabra was mopping. Sabra asked the student if she was OK. ‘I need a snack,’ said the student, whose blood sugar was dropping. But girl couldn’t get her card to work. Sabra got her over to chair to sit down, and got her a snack out of her own locker to get her sugar back up.”

For student-athletes juggling school, sports and, in some cases, being away from their parents for the first time, Lloyd is an indispensable member of the MACC team. If Lloyd catches wind of a student running up against scholarship red tape, or who may be struggling with mental health issues, she will point them to the resources on campus that can help.

“A lot of people don’t look at a custodian as customer service job, but it is a full customer service job,” says Litz, also a Local 153 member. “We don’t just provide clean buildings. We provide an experience to them. If you see a student with an issue, you’re encouraged to help them.”

As for what drives Lloyd to not only keep the MACC sparkling, but to improve the experience of the student-athletes, Lloyd says, “I want to be proud of what I do. It’s a hard job and I don’t get paid a lot. But when I walk out the door at night, I want to be sure I’ve done the best for my students. That’s not going over and above; it’s just being a good human being.”

Doing her best means that even she has to double or triple back to an area she’s already cleaned up that day for something as minor as a spilled bottle of soda, she’ll waste no time grabbing her mop and broom.

“If someone comes to me and says it’s a mess, I have to clean it. I can’t leave it alone,” says Lloyd. “What I do could affect the athletes’ safety or their health. If I don’t disinfect things like the showers or the toilet stalls, they could get sick.”

Her dedication and infectiously upbeat personality means Lloyd has fans. A lot of them.

According to David Rush, the assistant athletic director for facilities and operations, “The thing that separates Sabra is her passion for the job. She genuinely cares about the cleanliness of the building because she cares about the people working in the building.”

Another fan of Lloyd’s is head women’s gymnastics coach, Brice Biggin.

“She is a phenomenal person. I literally cannot tell you how hard she works and the pleasant attitude she has,” said Biggin. “[The gymnastics] facility is a pain to clean. You can either go through the motions or make the effort.”

Biggin says that when Lloyd began cleaning the gymnastics facility, which had been falling prey to clouds of chalk dust, “It was literally a breath of fresh air. She’s a person who goes out of her way to do her job as best as she can, but also take a genuine interest in the students. She’s one of the friendliest people you’d ever want to meet.”

According to Jimmy Fetzer, MACC’s facility manager, “She’s always willing to go above and beyond for us without questions asked. She has done such an immense amount for us and we are forever grateful for that.”

What does Lloyd make of the praise heaped on her for her good work?

“To know I’ve made an impact is pretty special,” she says.

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