She tried to get the attention of one carefree boy, his right foot bare and his left one clomping about in an oversized black sneaker, but she couldn't remember his name. "One Shoe," she heard his new teammates calling him, and when practice ended she watched him remove his sneaker, carefully wipe off the grime, return it to his backpack for the two-mile hike home and say, "See you tomorrow, Coach."
HOW COULD she cut anyone? Why not coach two teams, she decided, an under-10 and an under-12 in a local soccer league, enter a few weekend travel tournaments if she could scrape together enough money and move the two teams up to the next age brackets the following year if the idea worked.
She began harnessing the chaos. "She's a girl! She doesn't know what she's talking about," sneered a 12-year-old from Sudan. At once Luma gathered her team—boys from countries where a woman wouldn't dream of telling a man what to do—placed the Sudanese boy in front of the goal and lined up a penalty kick.
On all her youth and school teams (soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis) she'd been the best and fiercest player. She'd scored a hat trick to lead her jayvee girls' soccer team to a 3--1 victory over the varsity boys, who—when they'd finished digesting their pride—presented to her a jersey with the words THE MAN across the back. "You're not going to wear that, are you?" her father had cried.
"Sure I am," she said, and did.
She took one step toward the ball, her right leg exploding like a karate chop—she'd taken that in high school too—and sent a BB past the Sudanese boy and into the goal. "Anyone else?" asked Luma. Nope. Nobody else.
She stunned the kids again a few days later when they heard her speak in Arabic and French. She asked them to divide into groups of four for drills. When they split up by nationality or tribes, she shook her head no and reshuffled them. The East and West Africans sniped at one another. The northern Sudanese begrudged the southern. She made them run laps at the first whiff of old animosities. She outlawed all languages except English to smash any cliques.
But she wanted them to remember who they were. Maybe the name of the hot hip-hop band was floating around in the back of her head, but she never made that connection. Why not, she suggested, snip the re from refugees and call themselves the Fugees? Not the Fugees team. The Fugees Family. They liked that. She bought packs of white T-shirts from a roadside booth and etched their names and numbers in black marker. Now they had uniforms. When the kids heard a song on her radio a few weeks later, and the deejay credited the Fugees, they were outraged—that band had stolen their name!
She pulled up to the field at the Clarkston Community Center one day, a few weeks after practices had begun, and looked around. Where was her team? Finally she saw a half-dozen players cowering behind a dumpster and a building. "What's going on?" Luma asked.
"There's been a fight!" they said. "A bunch of kids jumped on Rooh! There was blood everywhere! He and his brothers ran home!"