Detroit Lions give helping hand to Saginaw United Phoenix football program

Saginaw United has a new name, new uniforms and new colors.

Now, all it needs is a win.

Thanks to the Detroit Lions, that moment may come sooner rather than later.

The Saginaw United Phoenix head into their second season of varsity football after the combined team from Saginaw High and Arthur Hill went 0-9 in 2021. The Phoenix no longer have the combined colors of the two merged teams, instead adopting a logo with black and silver. Last season, the team did not have a nickname.

Still, it won’t matter if the team goes winless again in the Saginaw Valley League South.

“There are expectations now that weren’t there before, things that we’re doing that every other school is doing but wasn’t normal for us,” United coach Lee Arthur said Thursday at the MLive Saginaw Football Media Day.

“We’re making it normal for players to lift in the summer. Workouts are not something different. They are normal. They are expected. That wasn’t always the case.”

The Detroit Lions are doing their part to help. The Saginaw United football program received a $24,000 grant from the Lions, along with $2,000 worth of chocolate milk.

“We used the milk to help out other programs, other students, younger students,” Arthur said. “But the money for the football program was huge for us. For all the things we need with the new school, new uniforms, new helmets … the money makes it possible to use our resources for other things that we need.

“In the grant proposal, I made sure to emphasize our situation and our needs, which are probably unique compared to other programs. With the merger of the schools and the need for new uniforms and helmets, it’s something not many other schools need. I wrote the grant on my own and didn’t tell anyone, just in case we didn’t get it. When we got it, it was huge. I was very happy to let (Saginaw superintendent) Ramont Roberts know.”

Arthur used the Lions’ money to buy new uniforms and helmets, adding training equipment.

“We had a sled and some cones … that was all we had,” Arthur said. “Our goal was to get what other programs have. It’s not just for this team or for me. It’s for the next coach, the players who are in elementary school right now.

“We are using this money to invest in the program’s future. The players who are here now know they are building something for the future. We are doing our part for these students, who are making the commitment to the future. We need to make a commitment to them.”

That commitment may not pay off immediately. According to Arthur, the team has a talented senior class, but there are only six. The good news is that the program has more than 50 players, including 23 freshmen.

“And once school starts, that number could go up to as much as 75 players in the program,” Arthur said. “We would love to have a freshman program, and we think that could happen.

“The money from the Lions is a part of that. We’re telling the players coming in that you’re going to be taken care of if you play here. We’re going to give you the coaching and the equipment and the things you need to be successful, the same things you would get at the most successful programs.”

The new school, located at 1903 Niagara where the current Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy exists, is expected to open for the 2023-24 school year, with the school also christening a new football field.

The Phoenix return some strong seniors, including lineman Lionel Baldwin. His brother, Mike Baldwin, will start at linebacker and fullback, with the brothers expected to also dominate in wrestling this season. Devin Bennett is expected to move to receiver from quarterback, with freshman Jordan Allen getting plenty of on-the-field experience as a newcomer at quarterback.

The Phoenix open the season Thursday, Aug. 25, at Saginaw High against Romulus Summitt North, which was 7-3 in 2021. Arthur is billing the game as a Black-Out, Back-to-School game, with fans invited to watch and cheer in black clothing.

“We have great kids and parents,” Arthur said. “The kids do the right things, from community service to work in the classroom. And they’ve put in the work. For some of them, they know that they are basically playing to set the foundation for future players.

“For some of the others, there’s the expectation that they are going to be the first ones to play at our new school on our new field. We are building something that can be built on by the next coach, by the next group of players.”

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