Journey to victory: Union football sees 1st winning streak in 18 years

High School Sport

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Union High School’s varsity football team lost 45 games straight, but a new coach last season brought them their first win in years.

Two games into the 2021 season and the team is undefeated. It’s the first time in 18 years they’ve won back-to-back games. Union High School’s football team is proving that no matter where you start, you can end up a winner.

“It’s in the books. It wasn’t easy as you can see, that’s all hard work,” senior Twanyea Smith said.

Smith is one of the seniors who has been pushing through the losses since their freshman year while playing with empty stands, taking long trips on the city bus and walking to practice.

“I used to have to walk from downtown all the way to Union just to get to practice,” said Keondre Anderson, another senior who has been on the team for the past four years.

He says he would walk more than an hour to get to practice, only to find less than a handful of players showed up, which meant trash cans were used to stand in on plays.

“From trash cans, having freshman with us — this whole varsity team, it’s different,” Anderson said.

That difference started with Don Fellows, who most recently coached at Grand Rapids Christian and led that school to a state championship.

Fellows took over as head coach at Union last season and got the Red Hawks their first win since 2015.

There are now 66 kids on the team, up from 17 when he took over. But it’s not just his state-championship coaching. He found ways to even the playing field for the kids by bringing in buses, equipment and even something as simple as a sandwich.

The Union High School football team on Sept. 7, 2021.

“Picking kids up, taking them home, having barbeques with them. Building the program, and our kids really want to be part of something special,” Fellows said.

Fellows saw something special as well, which is why he took the job. He says he sees a lot of himself in these players.

Don Fellow, head football coach at Union High School, on Sept. 7, 2021.

“I remember being the last one picked because maybe I didn’t have the right cleats on, and I will never let that happen to our kids. I want them to feel confident,” he said.

It took the help of the community to get here.

“When I took this job I said, ‘this is a citywide mission.’ We are trying to change young people’s lives,” Fellows said.

Union High School football practice on Sept. 7, 2021.

That goal is being met on and off the field.

“Just like in life, when something doesn’t go your way, don’t give up. Even if it repeatedly knocks you down, something good is going to happen eventually. You just got to hang in there,” Smith said.

The Red Hawks’ next game is at home on Friday against Mona Shores.

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