Football Players Tackle Ramadan

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During this month of Ramadan, many Muslims are finding it tough to go an entire day without food or water. But what happens when you add two grueling football practices in summer heat? That's the challenge facing Fordson High School's football team in Michigan. The team's coach speaks with guest host Tony Cox about what it's like to fast while preparing for the upcoming football season.

TONY COX, host: But first, Muslims around the world are currently observing Ramadan. It is the month when people of the Islamic faith fast during daylight hours as a means of spiritual cleansing.

For many, going an entire day without eating or drinking is a challenge, but what happens when you add on two grueling football practices every day in summer heat? The Fordson High School football team in Michigan is tackling that very obstacle.

The school is in the town of Dearborn, which is widely reported to have the largest Arab American population in the United States. Fordson student population is 90 percent Muslim, so many students observe Ramadan. That includes most of the players on the football team, the Tractors.

Here's incoming senior and lineman, Ahmed Layla(ph), describing what it's like on the field during the fast.

AHMED LAYLA: It's very difficult practicing without eating or hydrating. Most of the players - we run out of energy because we don't have anything in our body that helps us replenish, but you have to be a man and go through the pain.

COX: We wanted to know how the football team is faring during Ramadan, so we called on Head Coach, Fouad Zaban, to tell us more.

Welcome, coach, to the program here.

FOUAD ZABAN: Hey, Tony, thank you very much.

COX: So how are your guys holding up and how many of your players have been fasting for Ramadan?

ZABAN: To be quite honest with you, Tony, we don't necessarily ask kids, who's fasting and who's not fasting, so basically, I would say about 90 percent of the kids observe the fast.

COX: As a football coach, you've got a double duty, so to speak. You've got to help them to observe, you know, their religious belief and yet prepare them for a game. How do you do that?

ZABAN: First of all, we hold our double sessions in the evening. We did this last year for the first time. We switched our schedule. We went from 10:00 at night 'til 5:00 in the morning. That way, our kids were able to drink and eat.

But now, we have flipped our schedule back, so our second week of practice has been during the day and it's been 90 degrees, and hot, and our kids are a little lethargic. I mean, I think it's the transition from, you know, going and staying up all night to now waking up a little early and also not being able to eat and drink.

But ultimately, we make no excuses here at Fordson. We're just going to dig deep and work as hard as we can and try to get ready for that first game.

COX: I should mention that there's a new documentary called, "Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football," that's due out in September and it tells the story of a few of your players during a season.

What are you hoping audiences learn about the Tractors and about Ramadan from that movie?

ZABAN: Well, basically, we hope that the general public just sees that our kids are just like any American teenager in this country, that they love playing sports, but the only difference is that they try to observe their faith the way their faith is, which is Islam, in this situation. And Ramadan is one of the issues that we have to tackle, but ultimately, they're just like any typical teenager in America.

COX: These are still youngsters, so I wonder and I would imagine some of the parents listening to you would say, well, you know, if you have medical personnel standing by or do you have to, you know, make any special preparations for those youngsters who might be victimized by the heat or dehydration?

ZABAN: Well, what we do here at Fordson - we definitely have a trainer on staff that's with us all the time and we actually supply water and Gatorade and, I mean, there's stuff for them, so if there is a situation where, you know, they don't feel that they can handle to continue with their fast, they have the opportunity to drink and, you know, get hydrated.

But ultimately, I just thank God that everything has gone well so far. We haven't had any issues and that's always a concern, whether your kids are fasting or not fasting, you know, when it's 90 degrees outside and they got helmets and shoulder pads on and they're doing all kinds of work for, you know, five to six hours a day. You know, that's a big concern to have.

COX: Fouad Zaban is the head coach of the Fordson High School football team, the Tractors. He joined us from his office in Dearborn, Michigan. Thank you and good luck in your first game.

ZABAN: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And thank you for having me and, you know, hopefully Tractors will be victorious.

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