LEWISTON — Maslah Hassan is at home on the soccer field.

The field is where he finds happiness. It’s his comfort zone. It’s a place of escape from the noise of the world.

“When I’m really sad sometimes, I just get a ball and get my cleats and just forget about what’s going on in those moments,” Hassan said.

The Lewiston High School senior has had his reasons to be sad, but on the field — playing both for Lewiston and for cross-river rival Edward Little over his four-year career — Hassan has thrived. He was an all-state player for the Red Eddies a year ago, and is on track for another nod this season, his fourth and final high school campaign.

And he’s succeeded despite myriad challenges — and unthinkable tragedy.

Back and forth

Upon arrival in Maine, Hassan and his family were nomadic, moving back and forth between Lewiston and Auburn regularly after arriving in 2004. He changed schools with nearly every move.

“If you look at kids in this community or around everywhere, family situations cause kids to move from place to place,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. McGraw had several players come and go because of family circumstances in his nearly four decades as the program’s head coach.

Upon arriving in the U.S., Hassan and his family lived in Connecticut for five months before relocating to Maine. He started school in Lewiston, and lived there until middle school. He attended Auburn Middle School in eighth grade and, the following year as a freshman, he was a standout with Edward Little. He was the team’s top scorer despite knowing few of his teammates and playing in a new environment and at a higher level.

The following year, his family moved back to Lewiston, and Hassan joined the Blue Devils. After being the go-to scorer in his first year with EL, he blended in with a talented Lewiston team that lost in the regional final.

The toughest move of all, though, happened during his sophomore year, after the season ended.

Game-changer

On the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 8, Salima Nuh — Hassan’s mother — was traveling eastbound on Route 196 in Topsham. Nuh was headed to work.

She never made it.

A car driven in the opposite direction by Robert Robitaille, then 52, of Lisbon, apparently crossed the centerline and struck Nuh’s Volkswagen head on, authorities said, killing Nuh.

Nuh had been an activist for women’s empowerment in the Somali community in Lewiston, and served on the executive board of the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn.

She was also Hassan’s mother.

Hassan speaks very little of these events, but said he likely would have stayed in Lewiston for the remainder of high school. But after the tragedy, family dynamics changed.

“That affected everything,” Hassan said. “I would have stayed at Lewiston. My mom, she wanted me to go to Lewiston.”

Across the river

Instead, it was back across the river, back to Edward Little, and back to the Red Eddies’ soccer team.

On the field — his home — Hassan continued to excel. He earned all-state honors. He was EL’s top scorer again while playing with a group he had to get to know all over again. It was awkward returning to a rival team he’d left and played against the year before.

Without knowing most of the circumstances around his frequent moves, members of both communities began to talk behind the scenes.

Hassan played on. Whether he was wearing Red Eddies maroon or Lewiston blue, he tuned out taunts of him being a traitor, or accusations that his moves were soccer-related. His widowed father and family did what they needed to do to seek a better life.

Hassan rolled with the changes, and let soccer be his constant.

“All I do is ignore that. It’s just ignorance,” Hassan said. “It’s my family. We move so much. We can’t even stay in the same house for like, five months. My dad likes to find a house that’s better than the house we’re living in right now.”

Again during his junior season at Edward Little, after his familial situation settled a bit, Hassan knew there was a chance his family might return to Lewiston — again.

“My dad kept saying we were going to move back to Lewiston,” Hassan said.

The move home

McGraw started hearing talk of Hassan’s possible return to the Blue Devils. He thought it was a joke at first, but then his players started confirming the rumors. As the move appeared more realistic, McGraw called Edward Little coach Matt Andreasen.

“I didn’t want Matt to think I was recruiting, because I wouldn’t do that, and I wouldn’t do that to him and wouldn’t do that to Edward Little,” McGraw said. “We talked about it for a long time.”

Andreasen explained what a focal point Hassan was going to be on his team. Preseason preparations for the team’s makeup revolved around having Hassan in the lineup, and the spotlight that he’d earned would shine squarely on him.

“I knew if he came back with us, he’d be another piece in the cog of the machine,” McGraw said. “Did he really want that? When he came to see me, we talked about that. In a way, I was trying to discourage him from making the move.”

While the coaches talked, so did the local athletics community at large.

That’s just part of life for Hassan, but others seemed to take it personally.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” Hassan said. “People love you and they hate you at some point. They don’t know the reason behind it, and the fact that I was moving around.”

Hassan played summer soccer with Lewiston, but McGraw still made no assumptions. He’s had plenty of players participate with his program during the summer only to see them move away and never play for Lewiston again. When Hassan was enrolled at Lewiston in the fall and appeared at the first practice, McGraw knew it was real.

Fitting in

Hassan admitted going back to Lewiston was bittersweet. He was excited about the opportunity to reunite with his Blue Devils teammates, even those who had chastised him for leaving the year before. Still, he was torn about departing the Red Eddies. He had friends there he didn’t want to abandon. He had done well at EL. His grades were good, and there had been a great support system that helped him thrive.

“I was kind of sad,” Hassan said. “I didn’t want to leave the school. Even though I also had friends here, even though they hated me when I went to EL, I had to get reunited with them.”

It didn’t take long.

His return was a homecoming of sorts. He first lived in Lewiston when his family arrived, and the kids he grew up with then were his teammates once again.

“I’ve known those guys for a long time,” Hassan said. “I played with them since seventh-grade soccer and eighth-grade soccer.”

The transition to the group was seamless. Hassan felt relaxed and familiar with his teammates. It was his other family. One of the big differences for Hassan from his sophomore year, he said, is fitting in with the team, and being able to work with them more effectively.

“When everything was said and done, watching him play and watching him get along with the guys and watching him take on a leadership role, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad we got him,'” McGraw said. “He was so receptive to everything. Since he’s been here, he’s been nothing but gold, both on the field and off the field.”

McGraw said he sees a great deal of growth in Hassan since he played for the Blue Devils as a sophomore.

“He’s a lot more mature,” McGraw said. “He’s more accomplished. He’s improved. It’s just physical and emotional maturity.

“He’s done everything I’ve asked him to. He’s been unselfish. He just competes. If we win, he’s happy. If he gets a goal or if he gets an assist, he doesn’t care, as long as we win.”

The Blue Devils have done plenty of winning, going a perfect 14-0 and earning the top seed in Class A North playoff bracket. Lewiston has averaged more than seven goals per game. Hassan and fellow senior Abdi Shariff have combined to account for most of those.

“He and Abdi are such a dynamic duo,” said McGraw, who doesn’t add up the individual scoring statistics until after the season. “Neither one is worried about how many goals they have.”

After practice Wednesday, Hassan and his teammates were headed to another field to play soccer together for a while longer.

“The bottom line is he wanted all along to be with this group,” McGraw said. “Because of where he was living or where he had to live, he was there. I think he saw that opportunity. You know how it is when it’s your last chance. He said, ‘I know I want to play with that group of guys because I’ve grown up with them.’ That’s a bond. When you’re with a group since you were in third grade, you bond with them.”

Hassan is excited about Lewiston’s chances in the state tournament, which begins, poetically enough, with a quarterfinal matchup against Edward Little on Tuesday.

The Blue Devils are hoping to repeat as regional champions and, with Hassan helping on the front line, win the Class A state title that eluded them last fall.

Despite his many moves to date, Hassan is looking forward to at least one more — a move to continue his education.

And as long as the school has a soccer team and a field to which he can escape, Hassan will undoubtedly feel right at home there, too.

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Also read: Lewiston boys’ soccer team climbs national rankings


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