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Inspiring ‘Crawford 18’ teach us about far more than football

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They’re The Crawford 18, a group of kids scattered by the global winds who found purpose and passion through a game rooted in American soil.

They’re from Somalia and Vietnam, Mexico and Cambodia, linked by blocking and tackling. They help form the fabric of a high school that speaks, at last count, more than 50 languages — a fascinating soup of faces, dialects and world views.

In shoulder pads, they’re all Colts.

And despite being undersized, outgunned, resource challenged, with almost no collective history or boyhood experiences in football, The Crawford 18 stand a logic-defying 3-0.

If sports teaches lessons, what is Crawford High School teaching us?

“For these kids to be 3-0, it’s answering that call of disbelief,” said Kelcie Butcher, Crawford’s tireless athletic director. “How is this group of kids, boys who’ve never played football before they got to high school, who are duct-taping their shoes together, doing this? Really? We think they’re going to compete?

“It’s answering that with, yeah, we can compete.”

Crawford’s football team reveals the most compelling truths about underdogs and stacked odds and perseverance measured in heart and sweat.

The program has played without a home field for three seasons, piling into buses over and again for two-hour trips into the desert. Until last season, the team wiggled into shoulder pads purchased in 2001. Week after week, opponents routinely plant at least twice as many players on their sideline.

Eight of the Colts start on both sides of the ball. Five or six almost never come off the field. Wide receiver and safety Ali Musa, who has generated interest from Dixie State, also returns punts and kickoffs. He’s missed all of a half-dozen plays in 144 minutes of football.

Running back and linebacker Keyshawn Dante Walker has missed even fewer plays — two at last count.

“It takes heart, like a lot of it,” Walker said. “If you have heart, you can play both ways.”

The most meaningful rewards in life require obstacles and patience. They demand struggle and crushing failure, stiff-armed.

The Colts nearly lost football in 2012, coach Mike Wright’s first season. When he stepped onto the practice field, 16 kids looked back at him. That wasn’t nearly enough to field a varsity and junior-varsity team.

The season before, the Colts finished 1-9. The season before that: winless after forfeiting the final four games because of a lack of players.

“The athletic director came to me at the time and said, if we don’t get this fixed, we’re either going to cancel the season or go to only a JV season or go to eight-man,” Wright recalled. “I said, ‘Give me two days and let me see what I can do.’

“I went to the streets. I went to the phone books. I got as many kids as I could.”

Wright pieced together another 18 kids to keep Crawford’s football heartbeat alive. The following season, the Colts won a school-record 12 games.

On Oct. 20, the team finally will play on its home field, an identity-building, ours-forever place after suiting up for “home” games at Hoover and Lincoln. This is what The Crawford 18 waited for, worked for, longed for.

“I’ve been doing this for three and a half years now, finding practice fields, playing on the road and riding a yellow bus,” Wright said. “I’m seeing yellow in my dreams.

“I’m sure I’m going to have a giant smile and the hairs on my arms are going stand up. I might have a couple of tears even. Who knows? It’s going to be pretty intense.”

Crawford’s campus courtyard feels like a little like a Benetton ad, without the crass commercialization. Navigating all those languages and family backgrounds means it’s tricky to sell yearbooks or convince parents to pry precious dollars to attend a Friday football game.

Diversity is Crawford’s challenge, as well as its strength.

Butcher sees Somali signs in the neighborhood surrounding the school. She can tell you that those who speak a tongue known as Karen come from an area nestled inside of Burma. She understands the complexity of Farsi amid the field goals.

Alex, I’ll take World Languages for $400.

“The diversity on this campus fluctuates on what’s happen in the global scheme of things,” Butcher said. “Right now, there’s a lot of unrest in Tanzania and the Congo, so we’re getting a lot of refugees from that part of the world.

“It ebbs and flows. You can see what areas are having major issues by what types of students start to enroll here.”

The list of languages Butcher quickly cobbled together during a 10-minute scan of the 1,130-member student body covers two and a half pages.

Point to something on a page, like Kizigua, and Butcher connects the dots.

“Those kids are from Kenyan refugee camps,” she said. “It’s a tribal dialect.”

Acclimating all of those divergent worlds to simply exist and move forward at one school proves challenging. Toss the job of building a football program among students with little long-term connection to the sport, well, is something else altogether.

The results, though, have been nothing short of remarkable.

“We like to call ourselves a melting pot,” said Niko Perry, a senior running back and linebacker. “We accept everybody. Our team isn’t driven by winning. Our drive is to prove ourselves.

“… I think I’d be a little lost without football. The football team is everything to me. It’s like my second family. Everyone is, like, connected. We’re all brothers.”

The more you listen, the more you realize football allows The Crawford 18 to teach us some life lessons along the way.

Walk around Crawford with Butcher, the school’s relentless, smiling glue, and you begin to understand the critical importance of maintaining and nourishing these teams.

A girl bounces toward her with a sheet of paper with signatures. She wants to play volleyball. “Can I participate now?”

Butcher smiles and, without saying a word, offers a high-five. The girl glows.

It’s so hard to keep up at Crawford. It’s so essential that they do.

“It’s very overwhelming,” said Butcher, revealing moist, pink eyes. “Sometimes I feel like I’m pulling teeth. But when you get kids to be involved, that’s what keeps you going.

“When you see the look on their face when they walk in and they’ve gone from a C to an A on their math test because they did extra tutoring. And they’re beaming because they actually did it. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

That’s why football at Crawford, on life support just before this class of seniors had the chance to step on the field, means so much in a place where the game used to mean absolutely nothing.

“In spite of the fact that we haven’t had a home field for three years, in spite of the fact that we’ve been practicing on a field that’s rutted with gopher holes, in spite of the fact that we don’t have kids that come to us with Pop Warner experience, this group of boys and coaches are able to put something together,” Butcher said.

Something worldly and wonderful.

Crawford Aims for 4-0

The Crawford High School football team started last season 3-0 before falling to El Cajon Valley. The team failed to win a game the rest of the season.

Coach Mike Wright said this senior-dominated team is stronger as it again takes a 3-0 record into Friday’s matchup with El Cajon.

The Colts, with a core varsity roster consisting of just 18 players, will benefit from the return of its top defender. Jaden Sanders, who led the league in tackles last season, makes his season debut after sitting out because of injury.

The kickoff at Hoover High is scheduled for 4 p.m., because lights will not be available for the game.

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Diaspora

‘We Feel Like We Are All Family’: Somali Refugees Share Their First Thanksgiving In Lowell

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Every inch of the dinner table is covered with food. There are holiday basics like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, and then there are family specialties like samosas.

Hawo Ahmed, 24, scans the options, pointing out a spicy sauce her sister made to eat with the pooris, a sort of savory pastry. Then she comes across an American dish and asks, “I don’t know about this, what is this?”

“This is cranberry sauce,” one of the family’s guests says with a laugh.

Thanksgiving dinner came a little early for the Ahmed family in Lowell. It’s the first Thanksgiving the Somali refugees — three daughters and their mother — have experienced in the United States.

The Ahmeds move effortlessly between the living room and the kitchen, welcoming people and socializing with such a natural air that you’d think they’ve hosted the holiday before.

In fact, the family just arrived to this country 10 months ago.

The International Institute of New England, the agency helping them resettle, deployed a team of about 10 volunteers to lead the family’s transition. The volunteers bring the women to doctors’ appointments, help them open checking accounts, and teach them how to pay their bills.

Howa Ahmed helps herself to cranberry sauce as twin sister Muna picks up a piece of gingerbread during a Thanksgiving feast celebrated on Sunday before the holiday with volunteers from the International Institute of New England. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

And on this evening, the team brings the family a Thanksgiving spread, complete with mini chocolate turkeys and an abbreviated lesson on the meaning of the holiday from team captain Sherry Mulroy.

“We thought it was especially nice to share [Thanksgiving] with you, to introduce you to this tradition, but also because we are very thankful that we met you,” Mulroy says to the Ahmeds. “We are very thankful to have been able to help you out. You have always been so understanding of us and we look forward to a long friendship with you.”

By all accounts, the Ahmeds are adjusting remarkably well to their new surroundings. Identical twin sisters Hawo and Muna are working full time making medical devices and are studying for the GRE exam. They’ve also managed to become certified phlebotomists, all in less than year. Younger sister Asha and their mother Fatuma work as seamstresses and are learning English.

But according to one of the agency’s volunteers, Janet Amphlett of Cambridge, there have been a few bumps along the way.

(L-R) Hawo Ahmed, her sister Muna, their mother Fatuma Nur, and sister Asha listen as Sherry Mullroy, far right, attempts to explain the history of Thanksgiving. (Jesse Fosta/WBUR)

“They’re learning how to write checks,” Amphlett says. “I went to go mail two checks to National Grid for them, but the stamp was in the middle of the envelope, the address wasn’t legible through the window so, now — you don’t realize that these are learned things, right?”

Hawo says she and her family are learning all kinds of new things, like how to use a debit card and how to navigate public transportation. And Hawo is learning how to drive. With a bright smile on her face, she says she’s still learning to control the steering wheel.

From sharing something as mundane as addressing an envelope, to new milestones like learning to drive, the Ahmeds and the volunteers have grown to understand each other — even though they come from very different worlds.

Hawo and Muna were only a few months old when their parents fled civil war in Somalia. Asha, 22, was born in Kenya, where the family lived as refugees for more than 20 years until they arrived in Lowell in January, only a few days before President Trump signed his original travel ban.

When they first arrived, Hawo and Muna said they were nervous and didn’t know what to expect in their new home country. But that’s changed.

A curious Janet Amphlett listens as Howa Ahmed describes the different Somali dishes that are offered on the table. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“I think we were meant to be here,” Muna says, “because we have seen what life is all about.”

Hawo chimes in: “They say that sharing is caring so we feel like we are all family, there’s no difference at all.”

Hawo says they all try to keep in touch with their family still living in Somalia as best they can. But on this night, in their modest one-bedroom apartment, the Ahmeds are surrounded by a new family.

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Diaspora

Hawa Hassan: Refugee wants better care for son with muscular dystrophy

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STATESMAN — A year after leaving a Kenyan refugee camp — the only home she’s ever truly known — Hawa Hassan says life for her and her children in America hasn’t been easy.

Hassan’s 9-year-old son, Haji Mada, was taking a few steps at a time while in Kenya, but he has lost the ability to walk. Only after he arrived in Austin did doctors diagnose him with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Hassan, 30, wishes she had thicker rugs to cover the linoleum floors of her East Austin apartment so that Haji’s knees won’t hurt as much when he crawls.

“You have to feel bad because at the beginning your child used to walk and now he’s just sitting down,” says Hassan through a translator. Hassan said her brother probably had the same disorder as Haji — he was born healthy but lost the ability to walk as he aged — and he died when he was 25. Doctors are asking Hassan to prepare for the same fate for Haji, Hassan said.

Although Haji’s two sisters, Sadiya Hamadi, 11, and Fatuma Noor, 6, are already speaking to each other in English, Haji remains largely quiet.

Haji does not receive physical therapy; Hassan wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to stretch her son before she ushers all three children onto the school bus. Hassan can’t speak English well and doesn’t know how to drive. Much of her time is spent alone in her apartment. The children’s father, whom she separated from several years ago, is still in Kenya.

Hassan, who has developed a relationship with a refugee she knew from Kenya but who now lives in Houston, is pregnant with her fourth child. Doctors say if the baby is a boy, he could develop the same genetic disorder as Haji, Hassan said.

She wants to work and be able to send money back to Kenya to support her family, but she’s not ready yet to hand off her children, especially Haji, to another caretaker. The family lives off of the disability money that Haji receives — about $700 per month.

“When it’s difficult, I seek God,” says Hassan, who is Muslim.

Hassan says she doesn’t remember certain parts of her life; her caseworker says that she has likely experienced trauma. Hassan, who doesn’t know her exact birthdate other than that she was born in 1987, fled war-torn Somalia as a child. At the refugee camp in Kenya, Hassan was able to attend school for the first time, but that ended in the seventh grade. She helped her family farm foods like corn and sold things here and there at the market to make some extra money.

Although she heard from family and friends that America had more opportunities, she said she was skeptical and wanted to find out for herself. She applied and waited six years to be resettled.

Hassan says that America hasn’t been what people have said it would be, but she loves the public school system. Haji and his two sisters recently enrolled at Allison Elementary School about 20 minutes from their apartment so that he could receive better special education services. Sadiya and Fatuma are becoming fluent in English, and their favorite subject is reading.

Hassan doesn’t dismiss the possibility that she might return to school once the children are grown.

The Hassan family’s wishes

Motorized wheelchair for Haji; pots and pans as well as cooking utensils; H-E-B gift cards; reusable grocery bags; new bedding; beds, mirror and dresser, couches, coffee table, TV stand and high-ply area rugs; translation assistance; minivan with wheelchair lift; car insurance and gas gift cards; driver’s education for Hawa; iPad; a bike for Fatuma; art supplies; school supplies; toys; children’s books; crib, blankets and sheets, car seat, changing table, highchair, baby clothes for new baby; clothes for Sadiya, girls size 10-12, Haji, boys size 6-7 and Fatuma, girls size 6-7; and physical therapy for Haji.

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Minnesota

Rep. Ellison, Rep. Emmer, and Colleagues Introduce Resolution Condemning Terror Attack in Mogadishu

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WASHINGTON — On the one-month anniversary of the October 14th terror attack on Mogadishu, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), along with Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Karen Bass (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced House Resolution 620, which condemns the attack, expresses sympathy for its victims and their families, and reaffirms U.S. support for Somalia.

The October 14th terror attack killed more than 350 people, including three American citizens, and injured another 200—making it the single deadliest in Somalia’s history.

“It’s been a month since the terrible and cowardly attack on Mogadishu, and my heart still breaks for the people of Somalia and their families and friends here in the United States,” Ellison said. “The people of Somalia have shown incredible resilience— coming together not only as part of an inspiring effort to recover from this attack, but also to rebuild their nation in the spirit of peace and prosperity. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to express solidarity with the people of Somalia by strongly condemning the senseless violence, extending our condolences to all those affected by the attack, and reaffirming continued U.S. support for Somalia.”

“Just over a month ago, Mogadishu experienced a horrific and tragic terrorist attack,” said Emmer. “This attack hit close to home with three of our fellow Americans – including one Minnesotan – among the more than 350 men, women and children who lost their lives far too soon. I stand with my colleagues and the Somali community to condemn last month’s attack. I am proud to work with my colleagues to offer condolences and lend support as Somalia works to rebuild itself and its communities in the wake of this recent tragedy. Today, and every day, we stand against terror and join together to rid this world of evil.”
The full text of the resolution reads as follows:

“Strongly condemning the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017, and expressing condolences and sympathies to the victims of the attack and their families.

Whereas on October 14, 2017, a truck bomb filled with military grade and homemade explosives detonated at a busy intersection in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia, and took the lives of more than 350 people and injured more than 200 additional people;

Whereas at least three Americans, Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, were killed in the attack;

Whereas the Somali Government believes that Al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack, although no official claims of responsibility have yet been made;

Whereas Al-Shabaab has previously avoided claiming responsibility for Al Shabaab operations when it believes the operation may significantly damage its public image among Somalis;

Whereas the Department of State condemned ‘‘in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that killed and injured hundreds in Mogadishu on October 14’’;

Whereas the Department of State stated that ‘‘the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity’’;

Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2016, Al-Shabaab is the most potent threat to regional stability in East Africa;

Whereas the United States continues to support counterterrorism efforts in coordination with the Government of Somalia, international partners, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) mainly through capacity building programs, advise and assist missions, and intelligence support;

Whereas Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared three days of national mourning in response to the attack;

Whereas the vibrant, bustling district of Mogadishu where the attack occurred is characteristic of the city’s revitalization, and the solidarity and efforts by the city’s residents to rebuild already are a testament to their resilience; and

Whereas Somalia has been a strong partner to the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 2017;

(2) expresses its heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies for the victims of the attack and their families;

(3) honors the memories of Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, Mohamoud Elmi, and Abukar Dahie, who were murdered in the horrific terrorist attack;

(4) recognizes the significant efforts to combat terrorism by the Government of Somalia, the countries contributing troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia, and United States forces in Somalia;

(5) reaffirms United States support for the Government of Somalia’s efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity and combat terrorism in Somalia; and

(6) renews the solidarity of the people and Government of the United States with the people and Government of Somalia.”

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