One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Togethr by Amy Bass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The subtitle of One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game that Brought a Divided Town Together is “A coach, a team, and the game that brought a divided town together” and that’s a most apt description. Amy Bass tells the story of biology teacher and soccer coach Mike McGraw, a high school team made up mostly of Somali refugees, and how the game of soccer helped to unite a community.
In the early 2000s, thousands of Somali refugees in the USA found their way to Maine, with many of them settling in Lewiston. According to Bass, the town’s response was mixed. They were welcomed by many but also the target of anti-immigrant and racist backlashes. But soccer became a conduit for moving beyond all that. Many in the Somali community where fanatic about soccer. And Lewiston had a good team with a storied coach. But it took more than that. Bass brings focus to the many elements that helped to connect the Somali kids to the high school team; how the various cultural hurdles were overcome by the openness and responsiveness of several people in Lewiston. One of the key figures of course was the coach, Mike McGraw. We see how McGraw adapts to these new student-athletes and how he endears himself to them. And in many ways, this is the best aspect of Bass’s book: the respect and love that McGraw and his students have for each other comes through on every page.
More than just a story of soccer games, Bass also draws interesting parallels to Lewiston’s history with French-Canadian immigration in the 19th century and the similar challenges that population faced. She gives us background on the town, its history, and how it become a magnet for Somali immigrants. She profiles each of the main players, how they got to the US and how they were adjusting.
The final third of the book, as the team moves towards the championship game, might be the best part. The tension builds, the details of the games become more salient as the reader gets closer and closer to the final game and its outcome. Bass does a great job of building the tension and releasing it.
Overall, it’s a moving and powerful story. Like most American immigrant stories, it highlights what is great, powerful, and wonderful about the US. American is not perfect but at its core it’s a place for anyone to come and to succeed, for all to live peacefully according to their own lights. And, as the Lewiston Blue Devils showed, when we are able to do that, we can and do achieve great things.
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