A Coach, A Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together
WHAT A FREAKING READ!! I stayed up all night to finish Amy Bass' amazing tale of Lewiston, Maine and the 2015 Maine high school soccer championships. And yes, I was crying at the end. It's this tale of a high school soccer team, the Lewiston Blue Devils, but also a tale of a town that is completely changed by the influx of Somali refugees. It's a soccer story, yes, but it's also the story of refugees in America.
As Amy Bass writes in the introduction, "On the surface, the Blue Devils are a simple feel-good tale: refugee kids playing soccer. But theirs is more than just a great sports story. The Blue Devils made their championship run in one of the whitest states in America, in a city that didn't talk about hope for a long time."
Bass does not avoid addressing the problems in the community: the daily racism the Somali students dealt with, the day to day lives of refugees, and the changing nature of towns like Lewiston. For example, when she writes about the soccer coach adapting to his new team (mainly Somali players), she explains how he learned about everything from post-traumatic stress to Ramadan in order to be a better coach. As she writes, Coach McGraw told his player: "Keep your culture. Stay close to your parents. We'll figure this out." (She also illustrates this in scenes where she writes about how the boys played critical through Ramadan).
What was so remarkable about this book was that it was so much more than just a sports story. Bass is a history professor, and this shows when she writes about the Somali refugee crisis and Islamophobia, adding the necessary context to the story. Shireen Ahmed, one of the co-hosts of a podcast I adore (Burn it All Down), wrote, "It's a relevant tale to share in today's political climate where fear and bigotry can be conquered by inclusion, understanding and the beautiful game."
Go read this! I will warn you, however, be prepared to become emotionally invested in a Maine high school soccer team. Rating: ★★★★★