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Mount Morris, Twp.— The Flint Southwestern Jaguars beat the Dearborn Advanced Technology Lakers 40-8 in their first football game since the pandemic started nearly two years ago.
The Jaguars kicked off under the lights at Hamady Middle/High School’s field Aug. 27. Each player wore a brand new Riddell helmet donated by the National Football League.
“It feels good,” Senior Antione Jones Jr. said of being back on the field. “We got our teammates back. We’re slowing down on our plays but we’re going to get it back up.”
Though Houston Stadium, the Jaguars’ home field, is currently undergoing much-needed repairs, it will be ready in two weeks, Athletic Director Jamie Foster said.
More than 100 fans, family members, and Flint Schools staff came to cheer them on, including Superintendent Anita Steward and Board of Education member Adrian Walker.
“I’m super excited to be here cheering the kids on, and I’m happy that they get to be out playing today. I know this has been long overdue, so I’m excited that they actually get this opportunity,” Steward said.
This year’s team consists of 40 student athletes, most of them underclassmen. Malique Forward, a Southwestern Jaguars alumnus, said he was happy to see so many participants.
“It’s exciting to see the turnout. I remember most of my last year we only had about 20, maybe 30, on the team and to see about 40-50 out here playing varsity football. That’s just a good thing to see,” Forward said.
Due to sweltering temperatures, Flint Schools cancelled classes the week leading up to the game, which caused some training difficulties, Head Coach Andre Weathers said.
“Due to not having school, I can’t get everyone here. But I do have a majority of the kids that are showing up,” Weathers said, adding that he was nervous prior to the start of the game.
“We prepared all week. The kids have been very responsive. But, again, we haven’t played in two years, and I’m playing with a lot of youngsters.”
In August 2020, Flint school officials cancelled fall sports because of COVID-19. The decision was made to ensure students’ safety, Foster said.
Student athletes spent the past year conditioning.
“It’s intense. It’s every day, multiple hours a day,” Contessa Davis, a parent, said, adding that she’s still concerned about her son catching COVID.
“I am worried, but I just have to stay prayerful. I have been vaccinated, but I still worry.”
Though Houston Stadium, the Jaguars’ home field, was not ready for the first game, it will be in two weeks, Foster said.
Over the past year, Foster has been working to make critical updates to the stadium, which is located at Flint Jr. High, formerly Northwestern High School. Though the building was shut down to students in July 2020 due to several OSHA violations, the field and central kitchen remain in use.
The updates are funded, in part, by a $50,000 grant from the Detroit Lions. A portion of the grant went towards training equipment, like blocking dummies, weights, and shoulder pads, while the remaining is being used to update the stadium lighting, renovate the press box, and make electrical repairs.
“Two (reasons) why we’re not playing at our stadium: number one, our lightbulbs won’t come on, they’re totally fried,” Foster said. “And the second thing is we don’t have bathrooms for the spectators.”
The district will rent portable toilets for upcoming home games, Foster said.
But for Forward, it doesn’t matter where the team plays.
“You’re always you always part of the culture. So, 10 years from now, I’ll still be here watching my team play,” he said.