Ramadan fasting means football after dark
95% of Michigan school team's players are Muslim
Illuminated by the night lights on the Michigan football field, Adnan Restum joined a scrum of teammates at the end-zone water fountain, taking a break from a gruelling pre-season football workout to guzzle a drink.
In just a few hours, he wouldn't be able to take a sip.
But the 17-year-old defensive tackle could rehydrate guilt-free during the 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. practice, and succumb to tempting boxes full of granola bars and chocolate milk, too.
The moonlight practice is tailored for Restum and fellow Muslim teammates who make up most of the Fordson High School squad in the large Arab community in Dearborn, Mich.
It's a way for the players to practise football and their faith, and balance the fasting common during the 30-day holy month of Ramadan that started Aug.11.
"It feels really great," said Restum, who has been fasting since he was about 10. "If we're doing it during the day, we wouldn't have water and it would be really hot and everything."
Concerns about heat stroke during day
Fordson High's head coach Fouad Zaban proposed moving practice to nighttime after realizing the rotating Ramadan period would fall squarely during the start of a two-a-day practice schedule that launches football season.
Cutting practice wasn't an option at football-crazy Fordson, which has won four state titles and three runner-up seasons since it was established in 1928 and is coming off a one-loss season.
But no one wanted to lessen the significance of Ramadan at the school in the Detroit suburb widely known as the capital of Arab America.
Zaban, 40, a Muslim and former Fordson player, knows the high stakes.
When Ramadan falls during football season, the players practise in daylight hours. But with August's heat and doubled practice schedule, concerns grew about players' health, particularly the high risk of heat stroke.
"We know how hot it's been this summer — it's not safe," Zaban said.
The new practice schedule needed the approval of school and district administrators and the blessings of players, parents and police. Then there were the residents in the neighbourhood, who would hear more noise and see the illuminated field.
So he sent letters explaining the decision.
Zaban is unaware of such schedule switches elsewhere, though other teams at the school and in the district have moved practices earlier or later in the day.
Practice starts after sundown meal
It's been more than three decades since Ramadan last fell during football pre-season and Fordson's Muslim population was far smaller then — and, he notes, there were no field lights.
Zaban said the goal has been to let players break the fast at sundown and go to the mosque, and get players out in time for a meal and morning prayer before sunrise.
The field is near bustling bakeries, cafés and restaurants catering to late-night customers.
But first, there are drills.
"Keep running! Heads up!" Zaban yelled while leading a passing drill. And, when a receiver flubbed a one-handed catch, the coach barked, "Hey, two hands!"
The result was 20 push-ups.
Zaban said whether players fast is a personal choice and never an issue raised by him or his staff. Still, he says, it shouldn't be an excuse for poor performance for the roughly 95 per cent who do.
He ended the session before 4 a.m. with a message to the huddled, padded masses to "drink lots of water," "get a good meal in" and "man up."
Defensive tackle William Powell, one of the team's few non-Muslims, initially thought the coach was "out of his mind," but he's come around. In fact, he has even fasted.
"I'm around 'em, so I've tried a couple times but it's hard," the 17-year-old said.
For Rami Fakih, a wide receiver and defensive back, the nocturnal regimen has taken some adjustment — but for different reasons.
The brother of recently crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih said he had to think twice before using the water fountain.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Then I remembered, you know. I looked up. There's no sun. I can drink. I can eat."
With that, he walked off the field and into the darkness with plans to grab a quick bite with friends at a local bakery.