GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (GRPS) — A mid-August practice for the Ottawa Hills High School football team was a little different than most.
That’s because waiting for the scholar-athletes at the end of that day’s practice was something beyond the normal shower, get dressed and get on with the day.
On this day, the Bengals were headed to Ford Field to watch the Detroit Lions take on the New York Giants in the first pre-season game of the 2023 season and to receive a big boost to their program.
As the 32 players and coaches came off the field after their 9 a.m. practice, their mood was upbeat. A quick shower, a change into jeans or sweats and their orange Ottawa Hills jerseys and a bite to eat were all that stood in the way of them getting on the bus and headed east to Motown for that night’s kickoff.
The trip was made possible through a program called Touchdown in Your Town, presented by Kroger, that benefits high school football programs around the state of Michigan.
In partnership with Kroger, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan and Planet Fitness, the Lions provide support to schools in need of equipment, technology, apparel and/or grant funding.
Coaches, athletic directors and football staff members from Michigan high schools were eligible to nominate their program via an online portal, and submissions were reviewed by a committee comprised of members from the Lions organization and partners.
And that’s where the big boost came into play for the Bengals.
“We did receive the Touchdown in Your Town grant,” said GRPS Athletic Director Marcus Harris with a broad smile. “The grant is in the amount of $20,000 and will purchase new football equipment, protective gear, apparel and training equipment. It will help a lot.”
Former Ottawa Hills head coach Christian Verley pursued and wrote the grant for the Bengals and did a great job said Harris.
“This would not have been possible without Coach Verley,” he said. “He really deserves all the credit for making this happen for our students.”
For his part, Verley, now a GRPS school renewal specialist under the Promise Neighborhood program, said it was an honor to write the grant proposal and a thrill to get the award.
“To get the email that Ottawa Hills was chosen meant the world to our student-athletes,” he said. “The money will mean much-needed field equipment to help scholar-athletes practice with the state-of-the-art football equipment. Having the tools to practice and get better is a huge component to building a competitive program.”
The Lions worked with all of the schools that won grants to reveal the new resources and/or funding at a pre-season game.
Harris joined the Ottawa Hills squad for the ride to Detroit and was with them every step of the way during their experience at Ford Field. He said it was a great experience from start to finish and the Bengals represented GRPS with honor and pride.
“We arrived around 5 p.m.,” he recalled. “We were greeted by Terrance Thomas, the Detroit Lions Foundation Program Officer, at Gate C and every scholar received a Detroit Lions pennant. We then made our way to the Lions Den to meet all the other schools that also received the Touchdown in Your Town grant.”
While entering the Den, scholars were given a mini Detroit Lions replica helmet, the grants were then announced, and every team dove into an extensive buffet-style meal before heading to their seats in the stadium.
The long but memorable day ended with a 10 p.m. departure from Detroit and an after-midnight arrival in Grand Rapids, but Harris said it was all worth it.
“Our scholars had a great time,” he said. “And they represented their school and our district so very well. In fact, during the game, a spectator walked over to one of our coaches and had extremely positive things to say about our scholar-athletes overall.”