Amy Bass at Key West High School

By Kate Peters

It is hard to imagine a more inspiring story to bring before high school students than the one Amy Bass tells in One Goal.  

Armed with a borrowed soccer ball, Bass asked the crowd of approximately 200 high school students from Marathon and Key West, if anyone could demonstrate a regulation throw-in.  One brave student obliged, following her direction not to actually launch the ball across the auditorium. Then Bass flashed a slide on screen showing how Maulid Abdow of the Lewiston Blue Devils did it.  Pictures showed him diving forward, momentarily balancing in a handstand on top of the ball, and then using the momentum of his flipping body to hurtle the ball back into play.  “Nothing they did,” Bass said, “was ordinary.”

Throughout her presentation about this extraordinary Maine high school team comprised almost entirely of East African refugees, the details of how the team played soccer remained central. It was a sophisticated game of possession, not kick and chase. It was seeing and monopolizing on angles. It was practicing all the time, even after snowstorms, in the parking lot of the Colisée, the hockey arena that always got plowed first.

Bass moved nimbly from the facts that made them champions to the historical context of the town, the Kenyan refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab, the strife their families had fled in Somalia, as well as what Bass called “the painful ruptures” experienced in Lewiston including the most egregious examples:  a pig’s head in the mosque, and a mayor’s open letter to Somali refugees to stop coming.  Later, one student told Key West High School AP Lang teacher Betsy Ford she felt like Bass talked to them “like college students,” which from a teenager, means Bass wasn’t oversimplifying anything and they felt respected because of it.

She told them about an inspiring central figure in One Goal, early refugee and star soccer player, Shobow Saban. Shobow returned to Lewiston with his college degree to “live his thank you” (in Somali, his Wad Mahadsantahay) by working with MIRS (Maine Immigration Refugee Services).  Bass said, all Shobow had longed for as a boy in Kakuma was a home where he might “have welcome.” And finally, when he sat in the stands of the 2015 championship game, he called it a “we moment.” He was a Lewiston soccer player, and a member of a diverse community bound together in celebration and pride.

Bass framed One Goal as a story about a group of people who “capitalized on difference” and demonstrated “what we can do when we do it together.” But, she explained, it is also about “how we can make meaning out of the threads of our daily lives.”  Bass fielded questions from the crowd: students asked about covering the Olympics, writing, and where she went to college. One student asked, “How did they feel about you writing a book about them?”  Bass talked about the importance of gaining each subject’s trust, but also the big challenge of “teenagers.” Of course, at first they liked the idea of being “famous,” but they were still apt to self-censor, cutting off a narrative with a “but you don’t want to hear more about that.” “Yes, I do!” Bass would entreat.  They knew what they’d done was special, but they still had blind spots for all the smaller details that were so significant to their individual journeys.

About the vocation of writing, Bass said it is “really fun, and really hard work.”  She continued, “I think writing is everyone’s potential super-power” if you’re willing to put in the effort and time. Bass herself is an excellent example of someone who has blended her passions, interests, and convictions into a meaningful career revealing stories that matter.

Bass’s presentation showed the audience how, if we follow our hearts and passions toward a worthy goal, all our lives can become thank you letters to those who inspired and helped us, and what we do can enhance the communities in which we live.

KWLS has presented authors from the seminar at Key West High School for the past five years, and we offer the Young Writers Studio in June for local young writers who want to find community and exercise their super-powers.

Photo credit: Key West High School Student and Young Writers Studio Alumna, Christina Tong

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