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Another Face of American Soccer

The New York Times tells the unlikely story of the Fugees, a team of former refugees playing in a poor suburb of Atlanta, and their remarkable coach Luma Mufleh, a woman who's devoted her life to giving hope and guidance to this group of displaced children growing up against the odds. Mufleh is tough; in fact she acts like a professional manager, choosing her teams based on performance and attendance, and imposing strict rules on things like decorum and punctuality-she even makes players sign contracts saying, among other things, they won't do drugs or get anybody pregnant.

Clarkston, GA, the town where the Fugees hail from, has become a popular destination for the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to place refugees: from 1996 to 2001-the time period when most of her current squad arrived-, more than 19,000 people displaced by war and oppression resettled in Georgia, many in Clarkston.

To be sure, Clarkson is a tough area to grow up in, though it can't be any tougher than the war-torn countries where many of the Fugees come from: places like Liberia, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Iraq. Some of her players were enlisted in rebel or government-run armies before fleeing their country; many saw family and friends being killed, some were forced to do it themselves.

Through Mufleh's tireless work, the Fugees have become one of the dominant forces in their league in just three years. They face opposition from the local government, which sees soccer as a sign of the town being taken over by former refugees. As such, the team struggles to find a proper playing field, but through Mufleh's resilience, you come away with a feeling she'll find a way to prevail.

Read the whole story at New York Times »

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