Soccer times cut to three nights at Walton School

AUBURN — In response to complaints from New Auburn neighbors, the School Department has cut the number of nights a soccer team can use the Walton School field.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Under the direction of Abdullahi Abdi, a team of young men play soccer at Walton Elementary School in Auburn on Tuesday evening. Abdi, not pictured, was the team manager for the Somali Olympic team during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Abdullahi Abdi moves the soccer ball up the field while coaching a group of young men at Walton Elementary School in Auburn on Tuesday evening. Abdi was the team manager for the Somali Olympic team during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Abdullahi Abdi, left of center with long red pants, coaches a group of young men during soccer practice at Walton Elementary School in Auburn on Tuesday evening. Abdi was the team manager for the Somali Olympic team during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Superintendent Tom Morrill told School Committee members Wednesday night that the Lewiston-Auburn Islamic Center was granted permission to play soccer at the field seven nights a week during the summer and early fall.

Effective Wednesday, the group has been restricted to playing soccer at the field on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. That may change once school sports begin, Morrill said.

The School Department will continue to look for more playing space acceptable to both the soccer players and the neighbors. “But the area is activity-rich and space-poor,” Morrill said. “There are only so many fields available.”

He praised the soccer players for participating in a healthy activity. “They are engaged with students and youth in our area," Morrill said. "It's a healthy endeavor. There's a great deal of teaching of a variety of skills, team building, character building.”

On Monday night, Walton neighbors complained to the Auburn City Council that the soccer players had taken over the field. Norm McKeone told the council that use of the field by neighborhood families had declined because dozens of Somalis play soccer at the field. McKeone said he was concerned about balls hitting cars and homes and speeding cars. He also said he was threatened when he yelled at one of the men to slow down.

Police Chief Phil Crowell said Monday that officers have responded to some complaints, but most calls turned out to be unfounded.

On Wednesday night, two Walton School neighbors spoke to the School Committee about the controversy.

June Vaillancourt complained about "a lack of sportsmanship and a lack of respect” by the players. The group is there “seven nights a week. They take the field over.” She described it as dangerous for those walking on or near the field.

“We're not welcome. Balls are flying into people's homes and cars,” Vaillancourt said.  She no longer feels safe walking on the path and now walks at Bates College, she said. She asked that a code of conduct be developed.

Chris Lhommedieu gave an opposite perspective.

Lhommedieu said his son came home one night excited that a new group was playing soccer. He bought his son, 13, some cleats. His son started playing with the team.

“They welcomed him in with open arms. I went down and watched,” Lhommedieu said. “What I observed was a bunch of folks playing soccer. They were taking up a third of the field on one end of it. It was respectable.”

He said his son had fun playing soccer. “I'm glad they're there. They're doing something other people can join in.”

The team, coached by Abdullahi Abdi of Lewiston, a manager of the 1996 Somali Olympic soccer team in Atlanta, was playing at the field Tuesday night. According to a Sun Journal photographer, they engaged in typical team chatter but were not loud. They took up half of the field. No one was using the other end of the field. Abdi told the photographer he had spoken to the superintendent about the situation.

When a Sun Journal reporter went to the field at 6 p.m. Wednesday, no one was there. A neighbor said the team showed up later. Efforts to reach Abdi were not successful.

In a March 28 Sun Journal story, Abdi was praised for his volunteer work of supervising a soccer league that plays in Lewiston and Portland. His players credited him with caring about kids.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Madeleine, Madeleine, Madeleine

Your comments do show prejudice, yours. You obviously have something against Norm McKeone. At least you should admit it. No, I don't know what's in Mr McKeone's heart. He may be prejudiced for all we know but if he is he still has a right to holler at cars racing by. Your assumptions are just that, assumptions. You just want to push the racism narrative because you think it makes you sound tolerant, but you aren't tolerant Madeleine. You assume that anyone who takes issue with a man does so because of his race. And, by the way, yes I am cool.

Jack Jalbert's picture

RE: I can't believe this

Once again, shame on you Madeleine for jumping to conclusions. In your zealous quest to satisfy yourself that you aren't racist in any way you're weighing in on a subject by calling those who have genuine complaints racist. If that makes you feel better about yourself, that's awesome, but don't assume that you know what's in the hearts of others. For that matter, how do you know what's in the hearts of the Somalis? My assumption is that there is no malice toward us but I don't really know any more than you know what Norm McKeone thinks of Somalis. You don't!! A man (who happened to be Somali) acted inappropriately and was spoken to. Get over it!!
We in the neighborhood are irritated with anyone who endangers kids' lives by speeding (white, black, or otherwise). Who are you to assume you know what's going on? Do the 6 children you claim as the high count at all? My grand-children are out there all the time and I make sure that speeders know that they are being watched and possibly reported. Don't make this about race, by doing so you make it a racist issue when it wasn't. Being a "real community" does not mean that you fan the flames of racism in order to feel better about yourself.

Jack Jalbert's picture

I'm sure Mr. Abidi is a great guy

Dear Irish Rogue, I'm sure Mr. Abdi is a great guy but that doesn't change the facts. Just as you know Mr Abdi, I happen to know the man who was told to go f*** off when he spoke to the Somali driver about his speed. He suffers from a heart condition and ended up at the hospital that night because he was so upset about the incident. And, as you can see by my editorial contribution (just above yours) I have no bones to pick with the Somalis. As a matter of fact I stand up for them regularly because bigotry does exist in Auburn just as it did when the Irish and French moved here. I believe in judging everyone on their actions, not by the color of their skin or in any other random ignorant manner. But it's unfair of you (and especially the above contributors who were so rude) to respond in a way that calls into question my neighbors' character. I live in a house which backs up against Walton field (my family home of more than 40 years) so I see everything that goes on out there. As such, I was sad to hear of the incident between my neighbor and the young Somali man because I see soccer players (not black men) who are usually very respectful of their surroundings (probably in large part because of Mr. Abdi's role). But these things did happen and they deserved to be addressed without the self-righteousness that many of Sun Journal's readers displayed without knowing any of the facts. I would encourage you to also consider that there may be merit to the stories of my neighbors rather than to imagine that they just need to be enlightened about race relations. They're good people who were betrayed by the School Department who told them that there would be no organized sports played at Walton anymore once the track was installed and the baseball diamond was removed.

Jack Jalbert's picture

Opinion

Well, you have a right to your opinion but the facts still remain.

Jack Jalbert's picture

Soccer @ Walton

My house is situated such that I'm not only affected by Walton traffic but the field also runs right up against my back yard so I think I have a better vantage point than Mr. Lhommedieu from which to comment on the field's activities. Mr. Lhommedieu's story paints a lovely Rockwell moment picture but it was one night out of seven. And, no, it's not bigotry or ignorance that makes people want their track to be what the school department promised it would be when they transformed the former baseball field into a neighborhood walking track. They said that there would no longer be organized sports played at Walton. Well, this is organized sports and it's seven nights a week!! And if you don't want to play soccer (like Mr. Lhommedieu's son did) but would rather walk the track, your out of luck. The goal posts are situated right at the edge of the track and the activity is hot and heavy. At the very least the soccer field should be running length-wise on the field instead of width-wise (as it is now). For my part, I have nothing against the Somalis either on the field or off. I find that (for the most part) they drive slowly past my house and look out for roadside activity (not something I can say about many of the young non-Somali drivers who use the basketball court). But in light of the many recent broken promises from the federal level on down to the local level it sure would be nice to see the city of Auburn and the School Department keep their word and leave this walking track out of the loop when it comes to organized sports. Is that really so much to ask?

 's picture

Maybe some

But not everyone, eyeroll.

 's picture

I think it was just a lack of communication

from everyone. If the rest of the neighborhood had talked to Mr. Abdi the way Mr. Lhommedieu did, the results would have been much different. Instead in the heat of the moment crude and insulting 'trash talk' was used, by both sides, and lead to this. It's a shame, because both sides were doing the same thing, trying to exercise.

 's picture

I agree xyz...

It appears there's room for everybody. I guess they're just scared of those "colored" folks! They don't feel "safe?!" What year is this again? Ridiculous!!

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