Netflix Options True Story of Refugees Helping Native-Born Americans Pursue Soccer Glory

When Somali refugees began settling in Lewistown, Maine, during the early 2000s, the town’s native born, mostly white denizens were apprehensive about their new neighbors. In October of 2002, the town’s mayor penned an open letter to Lewistown’s growing Somali community, expressing support for the refugees who had already made their home there, while essentially asking them to tell their friends and relatives to stop coming. A racial epithet was scrawled on a school bathroom mirror. Fallacious rumors began to spread that the Somali community was taking advantage of welfare benefits. And when several Somali arrivals tried to join the high school’s struggling soccer team, the native-born players were reluctant to play alongside them. But as author Amy Bass details in her book One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game that Brought a Divided Town Together, the game of soccer would prove to be the bridge that united the Lewistown community. And the story has now been optioned by Netflix to turn this incredible story into a film.

In an interview with WBUR in April, Bass and Lewistown High School boys’ soccer team coach, Mike McGraw, detailed the town’s transformation after the Somali refugees joined the team. Bass, who attended college in Lewistown in the early 90s, explained, “When I was in Lewistown, it felt like its better days were in the rear-view mirror…. [There was] a lot of unemployment. A lot of vacancy. Things that Maine deals with in terms of younger population moving away.” But to the influx of Somali refugees escaping the hardship and violence of their native country, the town’s bucolic landscape and good schools held the promise of a better life. And when McGraw realized that the Somali youths who wanted to join his team were highly skilled, he sensed an opportunity. “I recall one of the [Somali] kids saying after a summer game, ‘Well, when am I gonna get a uniform?’ And I said, ‘Well, you have to try out.’ He says, ‘Try out? Why try out? I’m good enough. We’re gonna be a champion.’ And I said, ‘Let’s try out first and see what happens.'” [See A Story of a Divided Maine Town, Somali Refugees and High School Soccer, by Bill Littlefield, WBUR, 06.Apr.2018. See also Netflix Options ‘Friday Night Lights’-Like Soccer Story ‘One Goal,’ by Andy Lewis, The Hollywood Reporter, 19.Jun.2018.]

Sure enough, McGraw began to build a soccer team comprised of Somali and native-born players that was good enough to stoke hopes of winning a state championship, an achievement that had proven out of reach in seasons past. McGraw noted that molding his team into potential champions took a lot of effort, both on and off the field. “… I told them that for us to be a team, this is how we had to be: we had to practice together, we had to play together. We couldn’t be one group and another group – and that we needed to learn how to trust and work with each other. And I mentioned that this is also maybe a good way to be in the hallways of the school … maybe interact with each other, go to the movies and things like that. We were pretty good before, but that’s when we started to get a lot better.”

The hard work of McGraw and his team paid off when, in 2015, Lewistown High School secured the city’s first state championship in soccer. And while the win was a cause for celebration throughout the community, Bass noted that it was also emblematic of a newfound sense of unity that went deeper than a soccer game. “They had ownership of a really important part of Lewistown history … and as one player, one former player, says from the stands that day, ‘It was a we moment.’ It doesn’t mean that they’re going to stay together. Community is still really hard work. But now they know what it feels like. …”

 

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