LEWISTON — Mike McGraw knew how much passion his players had for the game of soccer, but the longtime former head coach of the Lewiston boys soccer team found out the extent of their love for the game after a preseason training session.

A group of Muslim players, after going through double sessions of training while fasting during the month of Ramadan, started chatting about going to play a soccer tournament game.

McGraw, recalling his disbelief that those players wanted to take part in more soccer, was on hand Monday evening at a kickoff event at the Lewiston-Auburn Metro Chamber of Commerce office for the latest installment of the tournament.

What has turned into the Ramadan soccer tournament in Lewiston-Auburn started a new chapter in its history Monday evening when organizers held a player draft for the first time.

The lead organizer for this year’s event, Mohamed Khalid, a 2016 Lewiston High School graduate and a player on McGraw’s 2015 Class A state championship team, first got involved as a player more than a decade ago, earning the tournament’s best young player award that year. He started taking on the organizational lead four years ago, he said, when the previous organizers “just got busy with life, and things like that.”

“I was thinking, how could I change (the Ramadan tournament) up. So what I did is, through Google forms I took a survey, and about 100 people said we should try (a draft). So I said why not?” Khalid said. “I don’t want to assume on behalf of what the youth and what the community wants, I ask them, and their feedback was this. And as you can see, the way it turned out was very exciting and everyone was just happy. I think that’s what it’s all about, honestly.”


When Khalid first took over as organizer, he said it was just him and the team captains putting the event on by themselves. After co-founding Community Organizing Alliance in the past year, Khalid said he “was able to go into certain doors, ask people, ‘Hey, can you help out? We’re looking for a field, et cetera, et cetera.'”

Those doors opened for him and the tournament, which is in part how Monday’s inaugural player draft came to be. There’s now sponsors for teams, and representatives from three of them made up the panel of pickers who through a blind draw of names out of bowl filled out the rosters for the seven teams. Simon Hebert, Chief Operating Officer of Lewiston-based Hebert Construction; Abdikadir Negeye of Lewiston-based Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services; and Todd Goodwin of Auburn-based John F Murphy Homes took turns pulling out names, with Khalid announcing them to a crowd of a few dozen attendees who got more raucous with each passing name called out.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done the draft, and it was actually quite impressive and entertaining, and I’m hopeful that it went according to plan,” said Taraweeh FC captain Liban Negeye, a former Lewiston teammate and classmate of Khalid. “It was actually nice, and I hope we could actually keep doing this every year.”

“In the past, a captain just goes and grabs whichever player he wants before the tournament starts,” Negeye said. “It wasn’t fair to some captains, because they would just grab the best players; now it’s like 50-50, you could grab a good player or not. So I think it was a good way to do it this year.”

Before the draft began, McGraw was asked to speak to the crowd, many of whom he had once coached. He encouraged the players in the tournament to remember the love of the game that he was reminded of after a preseason training session. He also said to play the games for those that couldn’t play in the tournament, including another 2015 state champion, Zakariya Abdullahi, who was hit by a car and killed during a religious trip in Saudi Arabia last year. That was a rare moment of quiet during Monday’s opening ceremonies.

Warsame Ali, who scored the game-winning goal in Lewiston’s 2017 state championship, followed McGraw at the podium and spoke on bringing the community together — a common sentiment among those speaking Monday — and of supporting the youth.


“The youth are the backbone of the community,” Ali told the crowd, using a phrase that Khalid espoused later on.

Ali later sat in a corner of the room with Negeye as the draft grew to a crescendo.

Negeye’s Taraweeh FC team was the second to hear its initial pick, after Ediliba FC captain Best Ali kicked off the selection’s with a loud and favorable reaction to the first name drawn.

Baramboro FC’s Maslah Hassan, Golden Boys’ Jama Ali, Dekalb Stars’ Dek Hassan, Iskafahan FC’s Ridwan Ali and Fc Hala Madrid’s Abdirahman Farah then took their turns hearing who would fill out their respective rosters.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without the seven captains, or the captains always behind my back,” Khalid said. “But they’ve kind of chosen me, so it’s been nice.”

Besides the backing of those three sponsors, as well as the YMCA, Strengthen LA, Community Credit Union and Gateway Community Services, Khalid also pointed out the support he has received from the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, who have provided fields for the tournament games to be played on.


“Over the years, one thing we were struggling with was a place to play,” he said.

Tournament play begins Wednesday at Lewiston High School’s Franklin Pasture Athletic Complex, then will transition to Auburn’s Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility from April 8-18.

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline was in attendance Monday and said he was planning on attending some tournament games.

He won’t be alone, as Negeye described the turnout.

“The tournament, just the people, the Muslim community getting together, everybody just supports one another, there’s no hatred, it’s all love and peaceful tournament,” he said. “Because even the old guards, with kids and wives, all come to watch the game, knowing how beautiful it is.”

As much as the tournament is about providing players an activity to keep their minds off fasting and their bodies active during Ramadan, it has also become part of the celebration of the holiday in the community.

“Obviously Ramadan is a month of community and forgiving and peace, and all that,” Khalid said. “So I think, in this tournament, we’re going to exemplify that as well.”

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