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Flint, MI—Thanks to a $50,000 grant from Detroit Lions Charities, the Flint Jaguars’ football stadium will sport a fresh look when its time for players to return to the field.
Flint Southwestern Classical Academy is one of six Michigan high schools selected for the Touchdown in Your Town grant, an athletic funding program aimed to help high schools in need.
Detroit Lions Charities distributed over $200,000 between the winning schools. Southwestern received the largest amount of support, Senior Director of Detroit Lions Charities Jen McCollum said.
Athletic Director for Flint Schools Jamie Foster said the money will go towards critical stadium updates and new football equipment.
Southwestern also received a $3,000 “Chocolate Milk” cash prize courtesy of the United Dairy Industry for the purchase of low-fat chocolate milk to re-fuel players after games.
In addition, the National Football League donated 58 Riddell helmets, a professional-grade brand used by the NFL.
Recipients were chosen based on need, merit and impact protentional.
“[Southwestern] was really an under resourced program that had a lot of need,” McCollum said.
In August, Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford sent Flint student-athletes a video message announcing that they had won.
“We know you’re living in challenging times and I wanted to share some positive news here with you today…I’m excited to announce that Flint Southwestern Classical Academy has been selected as a 2020 Touchdown in your Town recipient,” Stafford said.
Originally, Detroit Lions players were going to surprise students by showing up to their first practice of the season, but plans changed due to the pandemic.
Instead, grant recipients were invited to attend a virtual “chalk talk” with past and present Detroit Lions in October.
The legend panel included former running back Joique Bell, former offensive lineman T.J. Lang and former safety Ron Rice. All three attended high schools in Michigan and spoke about their transition into professional football.
Detroit Lions’ defensive end Romeo Okwara, tight end T. J. Hockenson and defensive tackle Danny Shelton talked to students about overcoming adversity.
Foster said a few of the pro athletes shared their personal tragedies, something his students could relate to.
“In Flint, I think a lot of our kids have dealt with tragedies as well…Our kids really listened and took to heart what they said.”
At the end of the discussion, students had the opportunity to ask the pro athletes questions.
“Our kids did a really nice job with the questions. They asked things like ‘What did you do to improve yourself and increase your skills?’ and ‘How did you overcome an injury?’” Foster said, adding that he was proud.
Flint Schools’ only football field sits on the grounds of Flint Jr. High, formerly Northwestern High School. Though the building was shut down to students in July due to several OSHA violations, the field remains in use.
The stadium was built in 1965, Foster said. “At one time it was a gorgeous stadium…it was the best facility in the state. But since it has fallen into disrepair. It needs a lot of work.”
A portion of the grant will be used to update stadium lighting, renovate the press box and perform electrical repairs.
The remaining will go towards training equipment like blocking dummies, weights and shoulder pads.
“We needed shoulder pads desperately. I mean we had shoulder pads from… I don’t know how old they were, but they were old,” Foster said.
This is the second major donation from the Detroit Lions to impact Flint this year. In January, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village received a $250,000 grant for a new sports center, which is set to open fall 2021.
For student athletes, being recognized by an NFL team goes a long way, Foster said.
“They feel important. Someone actually sees them. When they walk out on the field in this new equipment, it might be psychological, but they just feel better. They feel like they’re equal,” he said.