Mike McGraw talks about his experience as the head coach of the Lewiston High School soccer team during the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. 

Mike McGraw talks about his experience as the head coach of the Lewiston High School soccer team during the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. 

LEWISTON — The excitement still bubbles up when Lewiston High School soccer coach Mike McGraw talks about his remarkable multicultural team that won the 2015 Maine State Soccer Championship.

McGraw spoke with unquestionable respect for the talent, teamwork and dedication of the school’s “Dream Team” players as he addressed a large audience at the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

He recalled his 35 seasons coaching soccer at LHS that led to a national ranking and widespread public recognition.

McGraw’s talk was filled with dozens of memories of coaching colleagues through the years, including well-known LHS coaches Norm Parent, Phil Clement, Paul Nadeau, Fern Masse and Bob Provencher. Drawing on lessons learned from them, McGraw said he developed a never-give-up coaching philosophy.

He said he had an example of that attitude that he would give to his players.

“If a guy gets past you, he’s not really past you,” McGraw would tell them. “Keep going. He can still hear your footsteps coming after him,” and that has an important effect.

McGraw told the audience he is always amazed at the day-to-day obstacles many of the young men on his team had to overcome. For several years in which Lewiston’s immigrant population increased, he saw inspiring examples of personal discipline.

One situation he recalled involved a boy from Somalia whose father was in Sweden. The boy, who McGraw described as a “lost individual,” was a very good soccer player, but he was the oldest male of his family in Lewiston. That meant he missed a lot of practice sessions because of home duties. Although the boy knew he had the talent to be a starter on the team, McGraw had to tell the boy he couldn’t make an exception for him.

“I couldn’t unfairly treat the ones who came to practice,” McGraw said. He explained that they all had to accept a “practice and play philosophy.”

Other stories about the evolution of the first championship Blue Devils soccer team included McGraw’s recollection of a long-standing rivalry between Lewiston and Brunswick.

He said it was in the years when Lewiston was known as a mill town while Brunswick had a population of professional businesspeople.

“The two groups didn’t mesh culturally,” McGraw said. “It wasn’t until we started getting the Somali-African influence that the mentality changed and the tables evened up,” he said.

Beginning in 2013, the multicultural makeup of the Blue Devils soccer teams combined exceptional talent with team spirit, and the result was “a perfect storm” leading to the 2015 championship.

“We asked the players to trust each other,” McGraw said. There was one time when it seemed it might not be working. During practice, an immigrant boy and a player from a longtime Lewiston family were mixing it up pretty aggressively as elbows and feet were flying for control of the ball. McGraw said, “I thought a fight was going to break out.”

In the end, McGraw learned they were going full tilt “because they were friends” with something to prove to each other.

“At that point, I started to think that a good thing is beginning to happen,” he said.

A member of the audience in the library’s Callahan Hall asked McGraw how he and the players handled inevitable episodes of bigotry or name-calling from spectators or opposing teams.

“Words can do a number on them,” McGraw said. He told his players to “look the other way (at that moment), but don’t accept it.” He said the right response was for them to play better.

Lewiston High School’s “Dream Team” championship gained national attention.

McGraw said he was interviewed by well-known TV sports reporter Soledad O’Brien. It seemed that she tried to put a controversial spin on the story’s mix of skin color and culture, but McGraw said he emphasized the community benefits of the successful season, and O’Brien wound up with a positive report on the air.

The Great Falls Forum is a monthly series featuring statewide and regional leaders in public policy, business, academia and the arts. The talks are co-sponsored by the Sun Journal, Bates College and the Lewiston Public Library.

Lewiston High School soccer coach Mike McGraw talks with the audience following his Great Falls Forum presentation at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. 

Lewiston High School soccer coach Mike McGraw talks with the audience following his Great Falls Forum presentation at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday. 

Darby Ray, chairwoman of the Lewiston Public Library’s board of trustees, introduces Mike McGraw, second from right, as the Great Falls Forum speaker at the library on Thursday. 

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