‘The Soccer People’: Heartbreak and Triumph in Clarkston, Georgia

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  01.22.07 | 8:47 AM ET

soccerexplainsPhoto by Arne Müseler, via flickr (Creative Commons).

We write often about how soccer explains the world. Here’s another post, one that tells the story of an amazing soccer team based in a small town near Atlanta. Team name: The Fugees. “The Fugees are indeed all refugees, from the most troubled corners—Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan,” writes Warren St. John in a front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times. “Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.”

St. John’s story chronicles not just struggles of the boys to play their favorite game and to adjust to the United States, but the impact of the refugees on Clarkston and the heroic efforts of the team’s coach, Luma Mufleh. “There are no gray areas with the Fugees,” she says. “They trigger people’s reactions on class, on race. They speak with accents and don’t seem American. A lot of people get shaken up by that.”

St. John writes:

As a Jordanian in the Deep South, Ms. Mufleh identified in some ways with the refugees. A legal resident awaiting a green card, she often felt an outsider herself, and knew what it was like to be far from home.

She also found she was needed. Her fluent Arabic and conversational French came in handy for players’ mothers who needed to translate a never-ending flow of government paperwork. Teachers learned to call her when her players’ parents could not be located. Families began to invite her to dinner, platters of rice and bowls of leafy African stews. The Ziatys cut back on the peppers when Coach Luma came over; they learned she couldn’t handle them.

Upon hearing of the low wages the refugee women were earning, Ms. Mufleh thought she could do better. She started a house and office cleaning company called Fresh Start, to employ refugee women. The starting salary is $10 an hour, nearly double the minimum wage and more than the women were earning as maids in downtown hotels. She guarantees a 50-cent raise every year, and now employs six refugee women.

Ms. Mufleh said that when she started the soccer program, she was hopelessly naïve about how it would change her life.

“I thought I would coach twice a week and on weekends—like coaching other kids,” she said. “It’s 40 or 60 hours a week—coaching, finding jobs, taking people to the hospital. You start off on your own, and you suddenly have a family of 120.”

Mufleh’s latest struggle involves finding a permanent field for the Fugees to play. At the end of March, St. John reports, the team’s current field will be taken over by baseball and football teams.

6 Comments for ‘The Soccer People’: Heartbreak and Triumph in Clarkston, Georgia

Adam 01.26.07 | 12:16 PM ET

Joanne 01.26.07 | 4:10 PM ET

Did you catch the latest on this story; studio pays 3m for story and kids will get a soccer field.


mike 01.27.07 | 11:30 AM ET

Thanks for passing along the links. The story is a natural for Hollywood, Joanne. If the movie gets made, it’ll be curious to see how it gets made and marketed.

Michael Yessis 01.31.07 | 9:20 AM ET

james 06.28.08 | 2:56 PM ET

interesting articles thank you
football is a game that is loved everywhere and really brings people together

Charity Football 07.08.08 | 7:09 PM ET

Here in UK there has been good success with charity organised football (or soccer as you would call it), bringing people together to enjoy the game.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.