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Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Town

outcastsIn some bookstores, Warren St. John’s new book, Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Town, will be found on the sports shelf.

In one sense, this is as it should be. The book tells the story of a young woman’s efforts to coach several soccer teams made up of boys who have come to the U.S. from countries destroyed by civil wars and invasions. These children are held together by Luma Mufleh, a woman born in Jordan who has decided that her opportunities will be greater if she stays in the U.S. after graduating from Smith, rather than returning to the life her family has prescribed for her in Jordan. She finds her purpose as a coach in Clarkston, Georgia, teaching children the game she loves. So, sure. It’s a soccer story.

But what distinguishes Coach Luma’s team is the grace with which she handles players who have little in common beyond their status as refugees. They have come from Bosnia, from Iraq, and from a dozen different African nations, some of them nations no longer. Most of them have arrived with almost nothing, and many of them can’t speak English. For a lot of them, the soccer team, which they call the Fugees (short for refugees) represents the most stable element in their lives.

So maybe Outcasts United should be on the sociology shelf. Or on the shelf devoted to books about wonders and miracles. Because, remarkably, Coach Luma makes the Fugees work. She combines soccer with academic tutoring. She also makes sure this player’s family gets a bag of rice, and that that player’s family understands the notice they’ve gotten from the landlord, and that the kid who’s playing in his socks gets some shoes. (She solves that problem by taking off her own sneakers and giving them to the player.)

I feel a little ridiculous suggesting that if you only read one book over the next few months, it should be Outcasts United. But if you only read one book over the next few months, it should be Outcasts United.

This program aired on April 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield has been the host of Only A Game since the program began in 1993.

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