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How a High School Soccer Team United a Racially Divided Town

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.”

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