AUBURN — Kathy Lare, who lives across from the Walton Elementary School field, said Thursday she was pleased that the Auburn School Department has limited a Somali soccer team from playing seven nights to just three.
“It's pretty much what we've been asking for,” Lare said.
Team coach Abdullahi Abdi of Lewiston said he was grateful to have any playing time. “We are very happy," he said. "The superintendent of schools is working with us.” The team will be allowed to use the field Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.
Superintendent Tom Morrill said he was looking for more space where the team could play.
“We have to strike a balance and respect that people want to walk,” Morrill said. Multiple groups wanting to exercise “is a wonderful problem to have.” And it's important not to overuse a field to prevent it from becoming a dust bowl, he said.
Lare said one reason she doesn't feel safe when the team plays is because they're such good players and the ball is hit with such force. She likes walking on the track, and children ride their bikes or play on the nearby swings, she said.
"We have to deal with flying soccer balls,” she said. She's afraid someone could get hurt.
When the team played Wednesday night, the players appeared to have spotters keeping the ball from flying out of the field, Lare said.
Coach Abdi disagreed “100 percent” that flying soccer balls are a threat.
“We use common sense,” he said. They don't position the goals — where the balls would be kicked the hardest — near homes or cars. And players kick the balls on the ground, not in the air, he said.
“But people are human beings," he said. "They're not all the same." Some neighbors are excited to have the team there, Abdi said. Others have gotten angry and “said words that are not good. (But) most are very nice people.”
His Lewiston-Auburn Islamic Center team of 22 players is semi-professional, called the Maine Atlantic Stars, he said.
“We travel everywhere," he said. "During the winter we traveled to Ohio; Thanksgiving, we're going to Atlanta.” This weekend his team is competing in Lowell, Mass., in a World Cup-style tournament of immigrants from different countries (www.onelowellsoccercup.org). His team is Somali. Last weekend they played two teams in the tournament, beating one and tying another.
As Auburn officials hunt for more fields, Abdi said his team has asked the city of Lewiston for field space. “We've asked the armory. They're always busy, busy, busy.”
Maggie Chisholm, director of the Lewiston Recreation Department, said Abdi had not contacted her office this year or last. In the past, the team asked for the varsity practice field. “We don't give that out to anybody,” she said.
If the group came in, filled out the paperwork and showed their certificate of insurance, they could have access to fields, as would any community group, Chisholm said. Lewiston fields are maintained and managed by the city, not the School Department, as they are in Auburn.
Recently, another soccer team made up mostly of immigrants, the Lewiston Stars, came in, filled out the forms and showed their certificate of insurance.
“We've given them two different fields,” Chisholm said. "They're very happy with that. We told them if another group came in and needed access, their time would be cut.”