What happened in Lewiston was more than a game

To win a game by 1-0 is more than close. To get there at the finish, the players, coaches and crowd must have felt the tension all the way through, even as the young men kicked and passed and aimed and blocked.

For the Lewiston High School boys, taking the Maine state soccer championship was a triumph for both them and their city.

Lewiston's Abdulkarim Abdulle, left and Cheverus' Mackenzie Hoglund during Saturday night's state championship soccer game at Deering High School in Portland. Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal

Lewiston’s Abdulkarim Abdulle, left and Cheverus’ Mackenzie Hoglund during Saturday’s state championship soccer game at Deering High School in Portland. Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal

Beyond brilliant soccer — the Lewiston team held its opponents scoreless through three playoff games; during the regular season, the team scored 113 goals and allowed opponents to score just seven — winning the Maine state soccer championship has a broader meaning.

This is a special team in another way. As Portland Press Herald reporter Glenn Jordan noted, “The majority are from Somalia, or their parents grew up there and wound up in a sprawling refugee complex called Dadaab in Kenya to escape civil war in Somalia.” Eight, said senior Dek Hassan, “knew each other before we came to America.”

But it wasn’t a team of immigrants to Lewiston. It was Lewiston’s team. To see them in the championship game, so many came that extra bleachers were needed to hold people from Lewiston’s old and new communities.

These fellows, from six different countries, played as one.

Lewiston hasn’t always been welcoming to their families, and it’s not the city’s first time with immigrants who didn’t exactly face the easiest reception when they arrived.

Starting in the 19th century, French-speaking immigrants came to Lewiston. At times, anti-Catholic sentiment was strong and hate groups targeted the Franco arrivals.

“Nineteen twenty four,” writes historian Mark Paul Richard, “was the Ku Klux Klan’s most active year in the state of Maine. . . In August, the Klan celebrated a political victory by detonating a bomb in the city of Lewiston, home to Maine’s largest Franco-American population.”

A picture from the following year, 1925, hints at what would become of the Franco children of that day. Fifteen boys from St. Peter’s School in Lewiston look mischievous and serious as they take football stances and hold baseball and football equipment. Like now, sports would be one way they would become part of their broader communities.

Today, Lewiston is in the middle of a different sort of competition, the mayoral runoff between incumbent Mayor Bob Macdonald and challenger Ben Chin.

What could be an honest discussion of the men’s ideas — and Chin has developed ambitious, detailed ideas, under the banner of “A Plan to Renew Lewiston” — has been undermined by odious elements. Racism and hate speech have arrived, escorted in by two of Chin’s critics.

First, Lewiston landlord Joe Dunne put up signs decrying “Ho Chi Chin” with a stereotyped image of an Asian man. In responding, Chin said, “As hard as this day has been for us, it is harder to live in a building right now that doesn’t have heat.” Chin continued, “In the faith tradition I grew up in, you pray for those who persecute you” and then led others in the prayer of St. Francis, which starts, “Lord, make us an instrument of your peace.”

Then Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, went after Chin. Based on his reading of a blog post put up by the Maine GOP that pasted together tidbits from across a sermon Chin gave in Lewiston’s Trinity Episcopal Church, Lockman called Chin “an anti-Christian bigot” and said “Chin hates America, hates Americans, and hates Christians.”

That’s right. Lockman claimed that Chin, a lay Episcopal leader who leads Christian congregations, hates Christians.

The same site that provoked Lockman also claims that Chin offered a “mock prayer” at a political protest at a bank. The Maine GOP chair, who said he doesn’t “condone passing judgment on people’s faith” has refused to take responsibility for attacks on Chin’s faith.

We have our differences, whether in values or religion or background or life experience. Of course we don’t all agree on the best path. But if we want to move forward, we have to stop false attacks and reject vilification.

As Mike McGraw, Lewiston’s soccer coach for a third of a century, said, “Our kids know, if they don’t do it together, if all of the pieces don’t work together efficiently, it doesn’t get done.” McGraw’s musings should stand as a watchword for us all.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.