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I recently had the honour of being knighted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. When I came to the UK from Somalia aged 8, not speaking any English, who would have thought that my running would eventually lead me here? This was another very special gold medal for me and I am so honoured to have received it. Here’s a little glimpse of how the day went for me.


How a High School Soccer Team United a Racially Divided Town



ONE GOAL tells the inspiring story of a city and its high school soccer team—the Blue Devils of Lewiston, Maine—and how their quest for a state championship title united a city that had undergone dramatic change after thousands of Somali refugees resettled there.

Lewiston is an economically struggling, overwhelmingly white, Catholic, mill town in one of the whitest states in America, and racial tensions hit a fever pitch as longtime residents and newcomers were uneasy living side by side with their new neighbors. They spoke a different language and practiced a different religion, and matters weren’t helped when the mayor asked Somalis to stop coming. Lewiston’s long history with French-Canadian immigrant factory workers did nothing to dispel myths about the Somalis, despite the constant reiterations of reality from city officials, community leaders, and teachers like Ronda Fournier and high school soccer coach Mike McGraw. But McGraw, who had come close to a state title back in 1991, began to see how newcomers like Shobow Saban could help lead the way, and integrated the refugee kids onto his team. If he could put the rules of the game to work for his increasingly diverse team, perhaps the community would follow in their footsteps, and perhaps their shared passion for soccer would help heal old wounds.

The following is adapted from One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together by Amy Bass, published by Hachette Books. Copyright © Amy Bass 2018.

Soccer lends itself to a particular kind of teamwork. It is a game of continuity, with more flow than ruptures. It doesn’t reorganize after a whistle, like basketball, or have a to-do list like the innings of a baseball game. To score in soccer, a team has to move the ball through an enormous amount of space, making decisions about who will take it where, from the first touch until someone sends it hurtling toward the net. Just by doing what a soccer team was supposed to do, the Blue Devils could become an example to the community.

Ronda Fournier, an assistant principal at Montello, often heard McGraw talk about “the ball” as she watched him adapt to change. An unapologetic “girl from the backwoods,” Fournier grew up in Sabattus, a small town just a stone’s throw from Lewiston, and attended Oak Hill High School, where football reigns supreme. A three-sport athlete herself—field hockey, basketball, and softball—she studied education at the University of New England and eventually landed in the biology classroom next to McGraw.

“He’s a really special man,” she says, smiling, a heavy Maine accent soaking every word. “You know? We are all blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Over the years, she got to know a lot of soccer players. If McGraw stepped out for a moment, they knocked on her door instead.

“Mrs. Fournier, you gonna let us in so we can put away our soccer gear?” they’d ask. “Yep, no problem,” she’d answer. “I’ll put it in for ya.”

Over the course of ten years, she and the coach developed a close working relationship. Few people had a better view to see how McGraw developed his winning formula.

by Amy Bass
In the tradition of Friday Night Lights and Outcasts United, ONE GOAL tells the inspiring story of the soccer team in a town bristling with racial tension that united Somali refugees and multi-generation Mainers in their quest for state—and ultimately national—glory.

“I remember him telling me of how difficult it was in the beginning, but it was all about the soccer.”

By prioritizing the game, she says, McGraw could make sure “the other stuff just didn’t interfere.” They didn’t have to have conversations about where a player was from, or what religion he practiced, or what language he spoke, or what his family had been through. Instead, they could focus on what a kid could do on the pitch.

McGraw, the players still joke, doesn’t care where they’re from as long as they pass the ball. “I watched Mike in the classroom for years. I see him out on the coaching field, and he does the same thing,” says Fournier. “He takes a kid’s strength, and he helps that kid use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses. He shows how they’re related, so that a kid can capitalize.”

Fournier pauses. “Any kid,” she says, and then waits another moment before repeating it, with emphasis. “Any. Kid.”

Fournier knows well the challenges of teaching here, but she doesn’t see the Somali influx as anything other than Lewiston being Lewiston. The newest immigrants have needs, just like those who came before them, and it is the schools’ job to meet them.

“It started with the French-Canadians, right?” she says.

Her own grandmother came from Canada, her grandfather from Scotland. They worked full-time shifts at the Rubber Heel, a long-gone shoe manufacturing plant in Sabattus, while growing cucumbers for the Litchfield pickle plant as a side job.

“You know, Lewiston’s gonna be kind of rough,” she remembers people saying when she first considered the job in 2005. “Things are going to be different—you sure you want to go teach there?”

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it matters where the kids come from,” she told them, shrugging off the comments. “They all need the same thing.”

She knew what people were too polite to come right out and say. Lewiston kids, among the poorest in the state, were considered problematic well before the Somalis came. But now, according to rumors, things were worse. Kids praying in the hallway, speaking different languages, dressing in “weird” clothes, eating “strange” foods. But Fournier didn’t care what anyone thought they knew about Lewiston High School. Teaching was teaching.

“To me, it didn’t matter at all,” she says. “Kids need love, they all need to know that somebody cared about them. And now they all want to play soccer.”

Fournier relied on McGraw for advice to help his players in her classes. He used the same strategies in the classroom he did on the field, emphasizing teamwork, urging her to call on a struggling student’s classmates to help. There was no question McGraw knew what was best for the players, academically, on the field, or just walking down the hallway.

But McGraw, too, faced challenges. Names no longer rolled off his tongue, and at times he resorted to calling players by their numbers until he became more familiar with pronunciations. The high school yearbook showed just how rapidly surnames in Lewiston were changing; the “A” section of class photos grew quickly because of Somali surnames. In the early days, aside from class photos, the soccer pages were the only place Somali students appeared. They weren’t photographed at prom. There were no casual photographs of them hanging in hallways or jumping around during Spirit Week. No one paid to put their baby picture in the back pages because such photos didn’t exist; if they did, there was no money for such things.

But on the soccer field, Somali students started to lay claim, quickly becoming the majority of the varsity roster. As McGraw strategized his so-called advantage of the ball to integrate the team, he also helped incorporate the new students into the culture of the high school. He didn’t think twice about it—the game came first, and trust worked both ways. He knew that when those first Somali students came to talk to him about playing, some level of trust was established. But he had to make it grow.

McGraw knew that whatever happened on the field— teamwork, communication, patience, and persistence—could impact the community as a whole. But it was going to take some serious coaching, and not just in terms of scoring goals. There’d been animosity and growing pains—all of his players had stories. Hallway skirmishes. Standoffs in the cafeteria. “Go Back to Africa,” among other things, scrawled on bathroom walls or in the dirt on car windows. White kids telling Somali kids that they paid for their shoes, their food, and their apartments. Fights in the parking lot. Teachers who showed Black Hawk Down in class or reminded students that their behavior wasn’t acceptable “in this country.” McGraw knew he had to do more than yell “together” from the sideline. Moving together, winning together wasn’t going to solve the world’s problems. But it was a first step. What, he wondered, was the next step?

Shobow remembers it well. It happened on a hot day in the early fall of his freshman year. McGraw saw the players getting ready as he approached the practice field. He watched them pulling up their long socks, strapping on shin guards, and huddled over cleats, trying to get knots out of tangled laces. They weren’t together, he realized, and there was a pattern. The Somali kids, Shobow included, sat in the shade by the garage, leaning against the cool bricks. The white kids were over in the sun, sitting around the light pole. Both groups were talking, separately. Both groups were getting ready, separately.

This, McGraw thought, has to change. It has to change right now. As the coach, he had to change it. He had no doubt he could succeed at making this better; this was one of his strengths. Soccer was the connector. He had to make them see that.

“I want you guys to come over here in the middle and sit,” he called as he walked over. They looked up, unsure of what he meant. He started pointing, moving players around, making sure they mixed up. Ali here, Jonny there.

“You!” McGraw roared, pointing at Shobow. His voice had yet to descend into its usual midseason rasp. “Come here—sit.”

Shobow hopped up almost instantly, not just because coach just told him to, but also because he realized what McGraw was trying to do. He wanted to bring them together. He wanted to help them be together. This, thought Shobow, was good.

McGraw continued to point, calling each of them out, until he was satisfied with the reconfiguration. Now they are speckled, he thought. Perfect. It was time to take an old-school idea of team and apply it to these players who sat before him. He wasn’t trying to save the world; he wanted to win. And to do that, he needed to build relationships, something he was good at. On the field, at least, he needed them to shed their identities—white, black, Muslim, Catholic, Franco, Somali, native, immigrant—and become something new: a team.

“Okay, this is how it’s gonna be,” McGraw started. “It has to be this way—this is how a team plays. This is how I want you to be on the field and off the field: together.”

The players looked at one another and began to relax. Almost immediately, McGraw noticed a change in their demeanors, their bodies, their faces.

“To play the game, you’re gonna have to play together. It’s the only way to play,” he continued.

He noticed some of them starting to smile. He was on to something. Keep going, he thought. Take it all the way.

“You’re going to have to talk to each other, because it’s the only way we’re gonna win,” he continued. “Sometimes our communities don’t understand each other, but you can show the adults how it is supposed to be. By playing together, that’ll send a message that our cultures can get along.”

But he knew it was going to take more than suiting up together. Learning how to be teammates, if not friends, was a process on and off the field.

“This is how I want you to look everywhere you go,” McGraw continued. “Everywhere. If you’re going to the store, if you’re going to class, you guys have to do it together. High-fives in the hallway. You need to hang out together. You don’t have to sit together in the cafeteria if you don’t want to, but you need to stick up for each other and be together. It’s a brotherhood.”

Wow, thought Shobow, stretching out his thin legs. From his new location on the grass, the sun on his back, he liked what he was hearing. He wanted his team to be united. A new sense of team spirit came across him, a deeper sense of connection. It was encouraging to hear Coach talk about this, to see him face it headon. Shobow knew from his friendship with Jonny how important this was.

McGraw finished his speech. It was time for practice. The players got up and started walking onto the field to warm up.

“Good job, Coach,” Shobow said to McGraw in a low voice as he walked past him, keeping his eyes down out of respect. “That was good.”

McGraw smiled, satisfied. For the next decade, it would be almost impossible to talk about Blue Devils soccer without referring to the day McGraw created his so-called speckled team, his constant sideline cry of “Together! Together!” taking on new meaning.

“How would you guys say it?” he asked a few Somalis on the team one day. “How would you say ‘together’?”

Pamoja ndugu, a few replied. It was Swahili, one of the many languages of the refugee camps. It meant “together brothers.”

It became their rallying cry. “One, two, three!” they shouted before every game, huddled together, hands in the middle, McGraw at the center. “PAMOJA NDUGU!”

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For the love of the game: The girls who are defying Al-Shabab to play basketball



In the U.S., “March Madness” basketball season is approaching. But in Sharjah, Somali women basketball players are making our own basketball history by competing in the 4th Arab Women Sports Tournament in Dubai.

I am a Somali-American born in Sool and raised in Mogadishu. I began playing basketball at the age of 7 when my older sister Safia was playing and I tagged along and started drilling with the ball. I fell in love with the sport, and as I grew older, it helped me learn teamwork, get an education, earn respect, and become a leader.

In the 1980s, I was a player and captain on the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team. At that time, our government supported us with the freedom to play across Africa and the Middle East. I was also able to earn a scholarship at the University of the District of Columbia in the United States.

But in 1991, soon after I arrived in America, civil war broke out, shattered my country, and prevented me from returning to Somalia until almost two decades later. My goal now is to empower Somali women and girls through sport so that they may share the joy and benefits from basketball that I had.

When I returned to my country in 2009, I was shocked and saddened to find that extremist groups like Al-Shabab banned women and girls from playing sports and regularly send death threats to those who dare to play.

The collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991 shuttered all sports infrastructure and caused many athletes to flee the country. Men and boys continued to play sports even after the collapse of the government — but it became impossible for women and girls to participate in any kind of sport. Militants and religious extremists, controlling many parts of the country, branded women’s sport participation as an immoral act.
Extremists were all over the news banning basketball for women in Somalia, and they even claimed that athletic gear is against Islamic teachings.

Sports like basketball can create educational opportunities, employment and safe places for women and girls. So in spite of threats from extremists, we are developing the game from grassroots to elite levels by recruiting players, training coaches across all states of Somalia, and building courts and gyms in secure environments.

Although we are making progress and galvanizing support from various communities in Somalia, the threat of violence lingers.

“They tell me to quit playing basketball, otherwise they will slaughter me,” said one young Somali woman who has come to love the sport as I do. “They will not stop me from playing basketball.”

From every state in Somalia, from every gym and court we create, our goal is give women and girls the opportunity to learn, know and love sports. My ultimate goal is to build and train the first Somali national women’s basketball team since the civil war.

In December 2016, we held the first “Somali Federal Women’s Basketball Tournament.” After one year of planning, we were able to bring together teams from the six different states of Somalia, and Somali diaspora players from the USA and Canada in the city of Garowe. With the generous support of donors, we built a brand new basketball court and carried out the tournament.

The project helped re-open the door to women and girls’ participation in sports in Somalia on both the professional and amateur levels. Some 450 young women and girls watched the games daily and 192 girls played on seven regional teams. We employed 192 Somali women for 10 days.

In October 2017, I recruited and coached a combination of Somali natives and Somali diaspora players for a team that competed in the All Arab Games.

We were the first Somali women’s team since the May 2017 overturning of the FIBA (the international basketball governing board) ban on women playing basketball with hijab.

That allowed our girls to compete while wearing the hijab. However, we came up against another FIBA rule that did not permit the girls to play with arms and legs covered — which is another requirement of our religion. Some of our players declined to play for fear that exposing their arms and legs could lead to criticism, physical abuse and even death when they returned to their home states.

From our initial efforts to rebuild basketball in Somalia, we have seen concrete benefits: Families are now encouraging girls to participate in sports, especially basketball and track and field. Parents are less convinced by extremist claims about why girls must not play sports. And perhaps best of all, the number of young girls between the ages of 8‐18 who want to play basketball has increased dramatically, and the number of female spectators increases with every tournament.

From our small beginnings, we will select a Somali Women’s National Basketball Team and plan to participate at the international level.

Here at the 4th Arab Women’s Sports Tournament in Dubai, we hope to win. But even if we lose in the tournament, Somali women basketball players are winning simply by being in the game.

Below, watch a short documentary about girls in Somalia and their love of basketball — and what they must do to play the game they love in defiance of Al-Shabab.

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Super Bowl 2018: Eagles win first Super Bowl, 41-33, stop Tom Brady, Patriots



THE INQUIRER — MINNEAPOLIS — This night will be remembered for decades in Philadelphia, when old friends reminisce about where they were on Feb. 4, 2018, and parents tell their children about the moment the Eagles won their first Super Bowl. They’ll remember when Doug Pederson called the trick play at the goal line, when Zach Ertz dove into the end zone in the fourth quarter, when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball, and when the greatest dynasty in NFL history fell to an improbable champion from Philadelphia.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl. You can read that again. It’s not going away. The Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. A team with a backup quarterback and with players who wore underdog masks throughout the playoffs because they were never favored to win sent Brady and Bill Belichick home with a Super Bowl loss.

Pederson gathered his team together in the postgame locker room after the players danced and sang and chewed cigars and sipped scotch and enjoyed a euphoria that can only be experienced after winning a Super Bowl. He recited what had become a mantra for the team.

“An individual can make a difference,” Pederson told them,” but a team makes a miracle!”

“Goddamn we made a miracle!” one player shouted.

“We’re going to party!” Pederson said to cheers.

“Philly’s gonna burn!” another player responded.

It was one of the best Super Bowls ever played, and it had a finish that befit this year’s team. When Nick Foles connected with Ertz for a go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a five-point lead, the excitement of the fourth-quarter lead collided with the anxiety prompted by knowing Brady was on the other sideline. The greatest quarterback in NFL history took the ball with a chance to win – and the Eagles didn’t let him. Graham pushed through the Patriots’ offensive line and drove Brady down, popping the ball loose. Rookie Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. The Eagles’ pass rush was their edge over the Patriots, and it helped them win the Super Bowl at the most crucial time of the game.

A late field goal gave the Eagles an eight-point lead, and Brady had no magic left. Green and black confetti fell from above, the players experienced a joy they believed all week would come, and the fans who made the trek to Minnesota were louder than they’ve ever sounded.

“It hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m so excited for that locker room,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Everything that we’ve been through this season, to get to this point — a lot of people counted us out — but that locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me. …We found a way to get it done.”

This moment is bigger than what happened during 60 minutes on Sunday. Try nearly 60 years, generations of Eagles fans waiting since 1960 for this type of celebration. There were all those autumn Sundays, from the Franklin Field bleachers to the 700 Level at Veteran Stadium to pristine Lincoln Financial Field. There were seasons that started with championship promise and all finished with the bitter disappointment of the city’s desire going unfulfilled. And it would renew each year, from the draft to training camp to the preseason into the regular season, with every weekend serving as a referendum and the Monday-morning mood throughout the region dictated by the final score the day before. If the fans were lucky, they had postseason football. But the last game was never a victory.

Not this year. Not these Eagles. There will be a parade down Broad Street this week. It might be the biggest moment in Philadelphia sports history, with weathered fans collecting on the debt from all those years of agony. And it happened because the underdog Eagles were better than Goliath on Sunday.

“We’ve been doubted since day one,” Ertz said. “This team, no one picked us. We came out here and we’re world champions. First time in Philadelphia history. The city earned this win. We wouldn’t be here without fans in Philly.”

The fans are among those Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie dedicated the championship to during the trophy presentation. He purchased the team in 1994 and they’ve been among the most successful teams in the NFL during his ownership, but no ring to show for it. They finally won with a team that he labeled last week as the most special in his two-plus decades after they overcame Carson Wentz’s injury during an MVP-caliber season along with the absences of Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos.

“They just know how to win and they’ve done it all year,” Lurie said. “It’s a credit to the players, the coaches, Howie [Roseman] and his staff. It’s a deep roster. Lose five Pro Bowl players, probably the best young quarterback in football, and you’re the world champs.”

Foles finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown and was named MVP of the game. Tom Brady went 28 of 43 for 505 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount led Eagles rushers with 90 rushing yards and a touchdown. Corey Clement had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Ertz and Jeffery also had scores. It was because of the roster Roseman built and Pederson and his staff developed, beating the Patriots without the franchise quarterback who was supposed to be one leading them to this point.

“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me.”

Foles spoke throughout the week about “staying in the moment,” and it allowed to win an award and stand in a spot that’s usually reserved for Brady. Foles thought about his teammates, his family, his faith — and also when he was a kid growing up in Austin imagining a Super Bowl victory.

“This is always the outcome, the goal, but I feel like if you put it on a pedestal, you start forgetting to do the little things,” Foles said. “I was worrying about that moment, and that’s what I did today, we did today, just staying in this moment, doing everything you can in the moment to be successful, and the outcome was we were world champs.”

The Eagles jumped to a 22-12 lead in the first half, including two touchdowns that will be remembered in Eagles history. The first came when Foles faked a handoff and passed deep to the left corner of the end zone to Alshon Jeffery, who made an acrobatic catch over former Eagle Eric Rowe. Jeffery was signed during the offseason to be the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver, and though he didn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers this season, he showed how he is a difference-maker in the Super Bowl. After a prime-time game in Dallas earlier this season, Jeffery said: “Big-time game, big-time players make big plays.” The Super Bowl would qualify.

Before halftime, Pederson kept his offense for one of the best plays seen in a Super Bowl. After driving to the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, Pederson elected to keep his offense on the field on fourth down. Those who haven’t seen the Eagles this season might have been surprised. But Pederson has been aggressive all year, and he wasn’t going to stop in the Super Bowl. He’s a fearless play-caller, and he made the boldest call of his career.

The play was called “Philly special.” The Eagles have spent the past few weeks working on it, but never as well as Sunday. Jason Kelce snapped the ball to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to Trey Burton, who threw the pass to a wide-open Foles. Yes, Nick Foles caught a touchdown. Brady dropped a pass earlier in the game on a Patriots trick play. Foles showed he has the better hands, catching the ball for a 1-yard score to give the Eagles a 10-point margin. The Eagles did not call that play all season, and Pederson put it in the game plan for one of the biggest moments on the biggest stage.

“Just needed the right time, right opportunity,” Pederson said, “and the guys executed it brilliantly.”

While Justin Timberlake performed at halftime, the Patriots had an extended time to figure out how to attack the Eagles in the second half. They decided to do it by looking for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted five times on the opening drive of the half, including for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Eagles’ lead to three points.

The Eagles responded with their own touchdown when Foles found Clement for a 22-yard score on which Clement tiptoed the blue paint to stay in bounds. Clement, a Glassboro native who went undrafted in April, kept working his way up the depth chart to the point that the team trusted him in the second half of the Super Bowl to be a key contributor for his hometown team.

“Going back to when the season started, and then to this moment, it is awesome,” Clement said. “I’ve achieved my dreams, man.”

But even with a 10-point lead, there was little reason to think it was big enough. Brady’s been in that situation before. He found every soft spot in the Eagles defense, and the pass rush that was supposed to give the Eagles their edge wasn’t hitting Brady, and the Patriots scored again.

It seemed as if the teams would need touchdowns – not field goals. So when the Eagles settled for a 42-yard field goal to make it a six-point margin, the Patriots had an opportunity. Brady again drove the Patriots to a touchdown when he was barely acquainted with the Eagles’ pass rushers on the drive. He found Gronkowski for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 33-32 lead with more than nine minutes remaining. It was the Patriots’ first lead of the game.

The Eagles have been applauded all year for their resiliency. That showed in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Foles was the clutch quarterback Sunday, with a fourth-down conversion extending the drive before he found Ertz crossing the middle of the field for the decisive touchdown. Officials confirmed the score only after a lengthy review. The ball popped out of Ertz’s hands when he reached forward into the end zone, but it was determined Ertz was a runner by that point, and the Eagles went ahead.

“If they would have overturned that,” Ertz said, “I don’t what would have happened in the city of Philadelphia.”

The Eagles failed to convert a two-point conversion, and Brady had his chance to show the magic that has defined his career. Jenkins brought the defense together. They knew the Patriots needed to pass. They knew they needed one stop. They knew somebody needed to make a play.

“We’re this close to a world championship,” Jenkins said. “There was no doubt we were going to get that stop. And we realized somebody at the end of this drive is going to be the hero. Just be ready when the time comes.”

Graham was the hero. He forced New England’s first turnover of the game, and what seemed like a dream became a reality. The Eagles, at long last, won their first Super Bowl.

“The city of Philly?” Graham said. “We’re about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!”

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