Boys soccer team ‘motto’ stirs pride among students, athletes, families and community at large

by Louis Hoglund, Managing Editor

Soccer talk, over cups of Somali tea, has dominated the conversation at the Dawo Halal store on the west side of the Pelican Rapids downtown business district over the past couple weeks.

A feisty team from the smallest public school with a soccer program was on a playoff run. The Pelican boys, all of them Somali and Hispanic, toppled teams from high schools five, nearly six, times larger. Alexandria went down. Then big Lumberjacks from Bemidji were felled.

The season came down the final match-up with St. Cloud Tech on Oct. 24.

The soccer fans over at Pelican’s African store was a scene about as All American as a New York City tavern in 1955 or 1956, when smart-talking Yankee or Brooklyn Dodger fans mouthed off about the pending World Series.

That was the year fans hopped cross-town subways from Brooklyn to the Bronx to President Trump’s hometown of Queens, to the Big Apple ballparks.

The TV set at the African store is set on all soccer; all the time. Back in the 1950s, Yankee
and Dodger fans had their ears to the radio.

When you stop in the Somali tea shop, it can be a little tough to understand what the Somali
soccer fans are talking about; sometimes. But…hardly more difficult than deciphering a
Brooklyn accent.

“We were not expecting to come this far…We can beat St. Cloud,” said Abdi Farah, a father
with three boys in the Pelican soccer program: Subeer, Suhayb and Sidiiq.

“I’m very proud of Pelican Rapids…I’ll be there Saturday,” said Abdi, planning for the Oct. 24 Section final. The excitement and anticipation was the equivalent of a state tournament game—since high school sports have been cut to strictly Section play, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to support the team.”

Also following the team closely. Abdullahi Isse, a Pelican resident—by way of refuge stops
in Kenya. His brothers, Abdirahman and Salcarrye are both in the Pelican program.

“Pelican is playing good,” said Isse. Just like American boys through the generations, the Isse dullahi—both of them aiming at varsity play in coming years. Leading the squad to the Section title is an unlikely figure, John Peter. While Peter is a veteran coach and educator, he was a newcomer to soccer. Peter has led the Vikings from only winning three games in their first season, 2016,
to a record of 10-3 in 2020. Even though he had never played the game, Peter has long connections to minority student-athletes and families, as an English language teacher.

“For the minority students, the soccer team represents more than just a team to play on,” Peter said, in a recent interview with the Forum. “It represents identity. When you look at
schools with diverse populations, it takes a long time for those populations to feel comfortable. With the soccer team, the kids have a reason to make sure their grades are good. Those things make a big difference in the culture of the whole school. It means a lot to them because it is a lot of their identity.”

Peter gets high praise from many parents, including Abdi Farah—himself a serious soccer player who competed at a high level in The Netherlands, before immigrating the U.S. and Pelican Rapids.

“He (Peter) is very serious, he is a very good coach,” said Abdi. “He never even played soccer, but he is better than any coach I’ve ever seen.”

Abdi helps coach younger soccer athletes, and could probably still be playing competitively. But he is extremely cautious in taking the field at all, for fear of injury. “I need to take care of my family, and I just can’t get hurt,” said Abdi, who has been employed at West Central Turkeys since arriving in Pelican in 2011. That’s another All American story. For generations, parents have put aside risky hobbies and activities, out of duty and responsibility to family.

One of the Viking boys soccer team signatures, which has been a unifyer, is the team “slogan.”
When minority players are out in the community doing fundraisers or other events, it is common for people to ask them where they are from, said Coach Peter. It is an innocent question, but does indicate that people sometimes assume the students must be from somewhere “other” than
historically Scandinavian Pelican Rapids.

The team has an answer in the form of their motto: “We’re from Pelican!”

“If you ask them where they’re from, they’ll say, ‘We’re from Pelican,’” Peter said. “All of the guys on the team are Mexican or Somali regarding their cultural background…But this team has helped give them a common identity, something they can all grasp together. We’re from Pelican and regardless of our background, that is going to bring us together.”

The historic Pelican Rapids boys soccer team of 2020 has been a welcome diversion from the COVID-19 pandemic and the nasty, divisive 2020 election.

Soccer has been a great unifyer, bringing school and community together. Somali and Hispanic families are especially proud, not only of the student-athletes—but the community at large.

“I’ve never been so happy ever in my life,” said “soccer dad” Abdi Farah. “I love Pelican Rapids, and would never move anywhere else. I’m going to retire here!”

 

The guys at the Dawo Halal store in Pelican Rapids, left, have been talking soccer for the past few weeks, as the Pelican high school boys soccer team advanced through the “COVID season” to the Section championship. Some of the “regulars” at the Somali tea room gathered outside for a photo, above, prior to the final game of the season—when Pelican would face an opponent from the much larger city of St. Cloud.
Two local Somali soccer fans, Abdi Farah and Abdullahi Isse—who have sons, brothers and friends on the Pelican Rapids High School Boys Soccer team.